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Self Defense Findings
Myth and Reality based on 482 Actual Defensive Shootings

Self Defense Findings

The following comes to us courtesy of Claude Werner, who, in addition to 20+ years in the field has also have earned a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice and has done extensive research in the area of firearms use for self defense. It is an analysis of five years of incidents reported in the NRA "Armed Citizen" column.


Here's my analysis of what armed self-defense for the Private Citizen, not LEO, looks like. You decide what suits your needs best to solve this type of problem.

Private citizens reload in approximately 1/2 of one percent of shooting incidents (3/482).

If the defender fires any shots, most likely it will be 2 to 3 rounds.

The shooting distance in the vast majority of cases was slightly in excess of arm's length. At this distances, every round, including .22s and .25s are highly, and immediately lethal. 

A revolver, large or small, in any caliber, is perfectly capable of dealing with almost all of the incidents. The ones which were beyond the capabilities of a five shot revolver would be best deal with by a shotgun, anyway. 

For those who do not practice or train, a revolver is far preferable to the autoloader because of the revolver's simpler manual of arms. Remember, eighty per cent of gunshot wounds are self-inflicted. Guns are handled many times more than they are shot, and so safe gun handling qualities and good training are much more important characteristics than its ability to be shot accurately and reloaded quickly. Revolvers are much less likely than autoloaders to ND in the hands of novices.

The perceived need for massive quantities of ammo, reloading, and precision shooting at distance is largely a figment of people's imaginations. There is simply no evidence to support the contention that any of those conditions occur during armed confrontation involving the Private Citizen.

The Armed Citizen - A Five Year Analysis

Executive Summary

For the period 1997 – 2001, reports of 482 incidents were examined. All involved the use of firearms by private citizens in self defense or defense of others. No law enforcement related incidents were included.

The majority of incidents (52%) took place in the home. Next most common locale (32%) was in a business. Incidents took place in public places in 9% of reports and 7% occurred in or around vehicles. The most common initial crimes were armed robbery (32%), home invasion (30%), and burglary (18%).

Overall, shots were fired by the defender in 72% of incidents. The average and median number of shots fired was 2. When more than 2 shots were fired, it generally appeared that the defender’s initial response was to fire until empty.

Handguns were used in 78% of incidents while long guns were used in 13%; in the balance the type of firearm was not reported. The most common size of handgun was the .35 caliber family (.38, .357, 9mm) at 61%, with most .38s apparently being of the 5 shot variety. Small guns (.380s and below) were at 23%, and .40 caliber and up at 15%.

The range of most incidents appears to be short but in excess of touching distance. It appears that most defenders will make the shoot decision shortly before the criminal comes within arm's length. Defenders frequently communicate with their attackers before shooting.

The firearm was carried on the body of the defender in only 20% of incidents. In 80% of cases, the firearm was obtained from a place of storage, frequently in another room.

Reloading was required in only 3 incidents. One of those involved killing an escaped lion with a .32 caliber revolver, which was eventually successful.

Multiple conspirators were involved in 36% of the incidents. However, there are no apparent cases of drivers or lookouts acting as reinforcements for the criminal actor(s) once shooting starts. Immediate flight is the most common response for drivers and lookouts at the sound of gunfire.

The largest group of violent criminal actors was 7, who committed serial home invasions in Rochester NY. An alert and prepared homeowner dispatched them (2 killed and 1 seriously wounded) with a shotgun when they broke in his door.

Incidents rarely occurred in reaction time (i.e., ¼ second increments). Most commonly, criminals acted in a shark-like fashion, slowly circling and alerting their intended victims. The defender(s) then had time to access even weapons that were stored in other rooms and bring them to bear.

The most common responses of criminals upon being shot were to flee immediately or expire. With few exceptions, criminals ceased their advances immediately upon being shot with any gun, in any caliber. Even small, light caliber guns displayed a significant degree of immediate lethality (30% immediate one shot kills) when employed at close range. Many criminal actors vocally expressed their fear of being shot when the defender displayed a weapon. Upon the criminals' flight, the defenders frequently chased and captured or shot the criminals and held them for the authorities.

Many people focus on training for extended engagements because it represents a skill set that can be practiced easily and conveniently. Developing the skills (and in time, habits) of situational awareness and clear thinking under stress aren't so straightforward, and so don't get nearly the attention they deserve.

Myth and Reality based on 482 Actual Defensive Shootings