Personal Defense / Training

How I Will Feel If I Have to Shoot Someone in the Face – Contrasting Views

Weekends are a time when I catch up on listening to podcasts. I subscribe to nearly 40 podcasts, of which half are gun podcasts, and so I am usually in catch up mode.

This past weekend I was struck by two very opposing views of defensive gun use presented on two different podcasts. The first was John Johnston’s Ballistic Radio podcast with Melody Lauer co-hosting (Episode 215, 2 July 2017, “The Day the Music Died”).

Lauer presented a question that a listener wrote in: “Why should I avoid demonstrations? I mean, I have a concealed weapon to defend myself from someone there who attacks me.”

Johnston responded:

So, I think that this is often times lost sight of by everybody, but I want everybody to just bear with me for a second and consider: If you legally shoot somebody, like they give you no recourse and you shoot them, that’s still a really bad thing. That is probably going to be the worst day of your life, and possibly the end of your life as you know it, whether or not you die. OK? So shooting somebody is bad. Period. Full stop.

Putting yourself in situation where the likelihood that you shoot somebody, legally or not, increases, is also bad. If you want to go demonstrate and you are carrying a legal means to protect yourself, that’s cool. There was a photographer out in Washington [actually, Oregon] that brandished a firearm at people that were actually threatening him and he’s now a prohibited person, can no longer own a firearm because he caught a felony off of that.

Before taking a break for the next segment, Johnston reiterated his bottom line, encouraging his listeners to “say it with me: shooting someone is bad. And if you think otherwise, maybe you need to reexamine how you are approaching this whole self-defense thing.”

Shirt for sale at headquarters of Suarez Group, Prescott, Arizona, June 2017. Photo by David Yamane

A very different perspective on the same topic was offered by Gabe Suarez on Mike Seeklander’s American Warrior podcast (Show #88, “The Gentleman Killer”: A Candid Discussion with Gabe Suarez, 23 July 2017). This was the second recent appearance by Suarez on Seeklander’s podcast, and Seeklander made clear that one reason he wanted to have Suarez back was because of the large number of people who listened to the previous show.

As I discussed when the first podcast came out, Suarez got some blow back for offering a course called “Killing Within the Law.” Part of the course description made reference to the “Gentleman Killer.” But the idea of the Gentleman Killer is something Suarez discussed over a year ago in a blog post by that title (and perhaps earlier than that?).

In any event, Seeklander was continuing the discussion with Suarez, and in the process asked the following question:

“Do you think most guys or gals that label themselves as self-defense students and/or self-defense instructors bury their heads in the sand in terms of what we’re really doing? Because here’s the deal: If someone walks in my door right now and I grab the handgun that’s near me and I plan to shoot at them, the political way to say it is I’m trying to ‘stop the threat,’ but the reality is there is a very, very good chance I’m killing them. So I am intentionally killing them” (edited for clarity from spoken to written word).

Before Seeklander could finalize his explanation of the question, Suarez jumped in to clarify:

“So, let me rephrase that for you. If you didn’t kill them, you would probably feel bad. Because you have someone that is attacking you. An enemy, OK? And we need to be clear in our own discussions and in our training exactly what it is that we’re doing. If you bring in a baby student and you tell him, ‘OK, we’re going to use this to stop an aggressor,’ in very nebulous, fake terms, they don’t know what to think. But they come to class, you show them a pistol and go, ‘This is for killing. When the bad guy comes in to kill you, you kill them first. This is how you do it: you do it by shooting them in the face five times.”

Will killing an aggressor be the worst day or your life or will you feel bad if you don’t shoot him in the face five times? I would not go so far as to say these two views are mutually exclusive. You could feel good because you killed an aggressor before they killed you AND have that be the worst day of your life for reasons other than how you feel.

But as ways of psychologically and practically preparing for the possibility of having to use lethal force, these views do seem to me to have very distinctively different accents. It’s the difference between calling your course “Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement” and “Killing within the Law.” Same idea, different accent.

I have attended the former several years ago, and I am looking forward to checking out a Suarez International course this fall if all goes as planned. I will be in a better position to comment further on similarities and differences then.

 

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22 thoughts on “How I Will Feel If I Have to Shoot Someone in the Face – Contrasting Views

  1. There are layers of difference.

    The courses may be aimed at different students, so there is the marketing aspect.

    There is also the aspect of psychological conditioning. You have to know the threshold for the moral and legal use of lethal force. The more you’ve thought about that before an attack, the less psychological trauma you experience afterward. Some people call it guilt but I wonder if a fair part is outrage.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. David,

    After you do coursework with SI, you may find, as I did (5 courses for me), that they are a bunch of blowhards led by their “Taipan”. You’ve already written about “branding”, and they epitomize this with their black sheep mentality. They preach “you don’t know what you don’t know”, and yet rarely branch outside of their own classes (AARs of their classes on Warriortalk are often written by fellow instructors), and Warriortalk is an echo chamber where outside ideas/thoughts are rarely tolerated. In other words, they are the living embodiment of not knowing what they do not know.

    EVERYTHING with SI is about branding. Well, more often about copying and then rebranding as their own. They mock students who prefer training with ex-special forces types as wannabes who want to be close to those who have killed. And yet, Gabe is held as a deity by the SI folks for this very same reason.

    There are two many stand up people in this industry to waste time on an ex-con who has admitted that he nearly went active shooter on his old department HQ until God made him turn his car around.

    Best of luck!

    –Robert

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Reblogged this on and commented:
    How about the first three shot in the forehead?
    Number One: It was night, he was shooting. Only target illuminated by street lamps was his face. One round just above the nose and eyebrow line.
    Numbers Two and Three: During an armed robbery in progress that I walked into, in uniform. First one shot but missed, caught me by surprise. In the head. Then the second popped up from an aisle next to the first guy. In the head.
    It happens. It doesn’t go over big with the bosses who think you did the shooting “on purpose”, but it happens. In the very first incident, I also noticed something later. My vision choked down, and only the face in the lighting was a definitive target. I was punished. No badge. Rubber gun squad for one year behind the desk, answering phones. In the second shooting, my first night back on patrol (my luck…) within four hours after roll call. You guessed it. I felt like Steve McQueen, The Cooler King, no badge, rubber gun squad for a year. At least the third member of that robbery team, I double tapped center mass. After the third shooting, three gunmen, a warrant service gone bad as they walked into a drug operation, two dead, one escaped. I walked into the captain’s office and put my shield and gun on his desk, and he threw me out, telling me never to volunteer my tin and gun, again to him. Perp number three of that team died the next day at a hospital. He refused to have the bullet removed and doctors called the local precinct on the other side of the county. Autopsy, and ballistics indicated the bullet was from my service revolver. Sounds great and I was also being made sergeant so they figured I could get promoted and get out of their hair. Not even a year later, the brass slowed me down by kicking me to a squad and chaining me to a desk, answering phones, doing paperwork. Then I got passed over for promotion to lieutenant three times, as a kick in the ass. Dead Ended. Shootings happen fast. Time slows down and seconds seem like minutes. Targets appear when they appear and you must be ready, whether it is center mass or any other part of the body. I think the whole trick to any of it remains, you must train yourself to be calm and remain calm, all through it, and afterwards. Learn to think under stress. Introduce stress into your training. Early on, I had two sergeants who were friends, they would go to the range with me sometimes, and start shouting in my ear as I was shooting. It freaked some people out, but my groups were very tight. They smiled and explained that I operate best, under stress. Both of them were Marines. Training begins immediately, introducing stress. Combat is stressful but training was harder. Skill levels with safe training jump by plateaus. It’s not one size fits all, and targets, especially the kind on the streets, shooting at you, present rapid moments of opportunity to halt their actions.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I wonder (and I’m sure I’ve said this before) if we’re not training people to have a bad reaction to killing someone who needs killing. We can all agree that there’s no point in harming someone who doesn’t deserve it. It’s bad and you should feel bad. But when someone tries to take your life, why should you feel bad about that?

    Now, the legal aftermath is probably going to suck. If it doesn’t, and the cops pat you on the back and tell you “good job,” then great, but we should expect to be treated like criminals until they can prove otherwise. It’s wise to avoid this, if possible. But then you should try to avoid doing the sort of dumb things that could escalate to self-defense. Don’t go to stupid places, doing stupid things, with stupid people. Duh. But if some jerk forces your hand, I sincerely hope that I’ll be able to say to myself, “I didn’t kill him. He killed himself. I just carried the bullet for a while.” Because if you’re innocent, minding your own business, and someone makes all the necessary bad decisions to force you to shoot him? Well then he killed himself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “training people to have a bad reaction” is a very good observation. I’ve been thinking a bit along those lines recently myself. I think it starts getting into messy territory and the overlap between the stories we tell ourselves, morality/philosophy, and psychology.

      The stories we tell get into our blood more deeply than we often realize. Ultimately I buy the argument that 1 shot stops (excluding head wounds) are because of the stories. “I got shot, I lie down now, I’m dead”. We’ve seen it hundreds of times in movies and stories. Many of us practiced that playing as children. Tough people will follow the story even though they could continue to function for several seconds. They are stopped in their head by the story not by the bullet.

      The main Morality/Philosophy aspect I see at play is the difference between your “needs killing” vs the idea that violence is inherently corrupting. The idea of moral killing is found in most religions. A handful of sects (quakers some bhuddists) embrace the hardcore pacifistic idea that any contact with violence or force corrupts. But that minority view (watered down) I think has spread into the US culture at large. John Wayne didn’t cry over killing the bad guy. But in A History of Violence, killing in self defense destroys all the good in the main character’s life. You can fill in your own examples but the “haunted by violence from the past” has become common in the stories we tell. (There’s that overlap).

      The psychological findings of what we now call PTSD along with (general) disinclination to use lethal force (Grossman’s On Killing is the go to source here) I think has been taken as evidence of the corrupting effect of force/violence and is related to the stories we tell.

      So maybe we tie it all together with what we think we believe vs what we actually believe. If a starving vegetarian kills and eats a rabbit, he may or may not be haunted by that. He may realize that he didn’t really care about the rabbit’s life as much as he thought and is ok with the act. Indeed he might be ok reverting to omnivore. Or he may be haunted by killing another animal whose life he values almost as much as his own. He may allow that it was necessary and moral but because he believes the rabbit had as much right to life, it may haunt him. Or he might accept it in that extreme case but vacillate between guilt and acceptance. It depends what he actually believes. It depends on this area of the stories he listens to, his philosophy, and his psychology.

      Liked by 2 people

      • A point. The Society of Friends (Often called “Quakers”.) is not a pacifist religion. My maternal kin are all Friends. Oversimplified, they hold that given an important decision you speak to God. God will give you an answer. It is up to you to then carry out that answer. One of my uncles was a CO medic during Korea, another was a tank sergeant. The Friends supported both.

        Sua Sponte.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fair point. Sgt York would be the most well known example IIRC. Yet as a group they tend towards that sort of strong pacifism. I’d go so far as to say that they are the single Western religious group most well associated with conscientious objection.

        Since they don’t have doctrine in the sense that most religious groups do it’s a dicier thing to say they stand for…well…almost anything. I don’t mean any disrespect by it I just like to balance out the more pacifistic Bhuddists with something from western civ.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think there’s a middle ground between understanding and internalizing (and teaching) the brutal realities of violence, and feeling the need to only (and incessantly) *talk about it* in the most graphic terms available. The latter seems more like contrived posturing than “realism.”

    I get it, you’re a hard-core life taker, tough as nails with no patience for fools; now shut up and speak and comport yourself as an adult. The most dangerous men I’ve known weren’t particulary profane, and never felt the need to constantly remind people how badass they were, nor assemble a cheerleading squad of sycophantic disciples.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for all the great comments. Rob and Sean – it may be that the two I have contrasted here really aren’t opposites, as you both suggest in different ways. You could not feel bad about shooting someone attacking you in the face, but feel very bad about everything you will have to face after that (both legal and social, as Ayoob preaches).

    Robert – how did you make it through 5 classes? I value the feedback and looking forward to seeing for myself. He’s been promoted by three people I have come to respect over the years: Michael Bane, Bob Mayne, and Mike Seeklander. That needs to be understood, too.

    Brittius – thanks for sharing your experiences. They are worlds apart from my own. I don’t envy what you experienced. Having “seen the elephant” you could have alot to teach others.

    Liked by 3 people

    • David,

      Couple of easy answers. The first four classes I took (meaning the first firearms/self-defense courses I ever took, other than NRA Basic Pistol) were with SI. So there was that element of not knowing any better. They were also quite close by. The first couple were okay, but they teach some things NO one else does, and sometimes there is a reason why everyone else teaches certain things in certain ways. The last class I took with them was one of their flagship courses, their Force On Force class. I found that what they were trying to “prove” with FoF led me to other conclusions, conclusions that most others in the firearms/self-defense industry reached as well. The stupidity of Warriortalk and the attitude of their Taipan himself (I wasn’t aware of all of his transgressions prior to the first few courses I took) put me over the edge. Once I branched out with other instructors (Steve Fisher, John Murphy, Paul Howe, Mike Pannone, Jeff Gonzales, Kyle Defoor, Bill Rapier, Craig Douglas, Mike Green, etc.), I saw how ridiculous some of the SI “doctrine” is.

      Seeklander, by his own admission on Facebook, had Gabe on a second time because so many people downloaded the first episode Gabe was on. Seeklander needs $, same as everyone else. I refuse to listen to either episode.

      I don’t know either Bane or Mayne. I’ve tried Mayne’s podcast a few times but found it wanting. Was also disappointed that he used to promote Gabe, SI products, and Warriortalk on his show while he was still an instructor for SI (but never mentioned that on air). I found this lacking in full disclosure.

      It is also interesting to note the number of people/companies who USED TO work with Gabe, but no longer do. The list is lengthy.

      I guess that, in the end, if you want to train with a “warrior” who happens to be an anesthesiologist or IT guy by day, then by all means do so with the SI cadre. They seem to enjoy being big fish in their own fish tank. Personally, I prefer a different crowd.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Brittius I also thank you for sharing your experiences. You epitomize to me the true meaning of the thin blue line. I keep my Beretta 92FS with a round in the chamber and the safety on by me in the house. I don’t ever want to have to use it against another human being but I have for years thought long about the reality of doing that. I hunted when I was younger so I’ve seen what happens when bullets open a head or a body cavity. However as long as nobody becomes the stupid person mentioned above directed at me it wont be an issue.

    Professor Yamane thanks for keeping this blog up and bringing a scholarly light onto the issues discussed here.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. If you are going to carry around deadly force you have to be willing to use it–prudently. How to psychologically prepare for that eventuality is something I have no knowledge to offer and I suspect others here do have that knowledge (Brittius). Excellent discussion. For a change, I’m happy to shut up and listen.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. To be clear, there is a huge difference between “there are clear cut short term/long term negative ramifications for me if I am forced to justifiably shoot someone” and “you will feel bad you shot/killed someone”.

    In an actual justifiable self-defense shooting there’s nothing to feel bad about. You weren’t the one who created that situation. Additionally you did everything reasonable to avoid it. You had no choice but to defend youself because of the actions against the victim (you) by the attacker (them). It’s ok to win, it’s ok to defend youself, and it’s ok to feel thankful that you not only survived, but dominated an encounter.

    On the other hand it’s not a hypothetical that a self-defense shooting is a bad thing for us. That’s a very quantifiable subject. Mental/Physical stress on the body. Mental/Physical stress on our family members. Periods of uncertainty during the investigation. Possible ostracization by members of the community. Possible reprisals from acquaintances of the the attacker. All things that we don’t need to worry about if we manage to not shoot someone.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for taking the time to weigh in and clarify. I come from the Ayoob school myself, so your thoughts resonated with me more than Suarez’s did. But I thought the (possible?) contrast was instructive and I am always open to “I never thought of it like that” moments.

      Here you had me when you said there’s a huge difference, but then in the third paragraph it seems you collapse the difference again. After all, isn’t “mental/physical stress on the body” and other negative consequences just another way of saying “you will feel bad”? So, there are clear short/long term negative consequences of justifiably shooting someone, among which are that you will feel bad? Unless mental/physical stress are different than feeling bad.

      Like

  10. Here is one from a Vice story.

    https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xd5bmw/how-does-it-feel-to-kill-someone

    The Teenager
    ” This all happened in rural north Florida. I was 18 but never one for going out and partying, so I was at home alone on the computer, just surfing. Around nine o’clock I heard the window in the living room being smashed in.

    Honestly, I don’t remember thinking much about what to do. I just went for my unloaded shotgun under my bed, grabbed the four shells from my bedside stand, and loaded them without racking one in the breach. After I set my defense, I called 911 and told the operator there was an intruder at my house. She was just telling me to not fight back when the intruder broke through my bedroom door. I had my shotgun leveled directly at his center of mass. I racked it, and yelled at him to get out. He just stood there, staring as if weighing up his odds. Then he moved suddenly and pulled a pistol from the front of his pants.

    This part worries me: I didn’t hesitate a second. As soon as his hand gripped the pistol, I fired. The first shot destroyed his chest cavity and his spine. He collapsed. Second shot blew open the better part of his head. The 911 operator was calling for me to answer. She was shaken by what happened, and she was very relieved when she heard my voice come through on the line. I just told her that I was OK, and the intruder was dead. She stayed on the line with me until the cops arrived.

    After that I went out to the front porch with my grandfather. I just remember throwing up and crying. It doesn’t sit well with me at all that I took a life. It is against human nature to take what God has given to every man and woman. But put in the same situation again, I would still pull the trigger. I will protect my life and the lives of those I love.”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. (1) I found it very telling in the Seeklander interview that Suarez refused to identify even a single one of the purported “experts” with whom he developed the curriculum for his “Killing Within the Law/Gentleman Killers” class. Anonymously-developed advice on the legal facets of use-of-force: what could go wrong? I believe in redemption, but I expect more transparency from an ex-convict if he expects to be perceived as credible.

    (2) Suarez claims that no prosecutor would attempt to use the fact that a defendant attended a “Gentleman Killers” class against that defendant in court, even while conceding he gave the class that name in order to be provocative for marketing purposes, then asks for EVEN ONE!!111!! example of a prosecutor doing such a thing. OK: In the Zimmerman trial, prosecutors made much of the fact that Zimmerman briefly attended an MMA gym, and had the gym owner testify before the jury about Zimmerman’s “training.” I could list countless other examples, such circumstantial evidence on state-of-mind is used by prosecutors at every opportunity, but only the one is required to disprove Suarez’s claim. The fact that Suarez seems not to know this suggests he lacks the expertise needed to teach the legal facets of use-of-force.

    (3) Suarez continues that if a prosecutor DID use attendance at his Gentleman Killer class against them in court, Suarez would make himself available as an “expert witness” to explain to the jury what the class was REALLY about. The notion of an ex-con as an expert witness is laughable–the impeachment line starts here, folks. The fact that Suarez seems not to know this further suggests he lacks the expertise needed to teach the legal facets of use-of-force.

    (4) Suarez claims that so long as there wasn’t some aggravating factor, such as an existing history of conflict between the parties, if you kill someone in self-defense “it’s going to be OK.” I work on cases every week in which otherwise law-abiding people are being charged with serious felonies for their use or threat to use force against a total stranger. The notion that we can just presume we’ll get a pat on the back from the cops and prosecutors is insane. Further, if Suarez really believed his own claim why is he running a class on the legal facets of use-of-force? It’s not necessary, is it, based on his own stated view? If his argument is that actual prosecutions of “good guy” cases of self-defense are relatively rare, this may be true–but if it happens to YOU the probability is 100%. Also, the same claim would be true of self-defense generally–the prospects that we’ll need a gun to defend ourselves on any given day approximates zero. Those of us who carry a gun regardless do so because of the stakes, not the odds.

    In short, Suarez’ interview simply confirmed my already existing impression of this guy developed over a couple of decades. Maybe his tactical training is awesome, who knows, I don’t claim any particular tactical expertise. But where he claims expertise in the legal facets of use-of-force, a subject in which I have some modest familiarity, he convincingly comes across as a charlatan.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I would further note that the law of self-defense is not a license to “kill.” It is a license to use deadly force to STOP A THREAT, if the conditions for the defensive use of self-defense have been met (e.g., it’s use is necessary to stop an imminent threat of death or grave bodily harm to an innocent). Once the threat has been neutralized, whether the threat lives or dies is totally inconsequential from a self-defense law perspective (with a notable exception for Louisiana’s weird self-defense laws). The death, if it occurs, is entirely incidental to the legal privilege to use force in self-defense. “Gentleman Killers” is not what the law allows or is intended to promote.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Andrew,

      And it’s partly because of well-thought-out comments like these that I had you sign my copy of your book a TacCon this year! Awesome!

      –Robert

      Liked by 1 person

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