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when to draw for self defense

If I Have To Shoot, When Should I Draw?

If a person should ever have to shoot in self-defense, when is the right time to draw? There may be instances when drawing a gun may not only be premature, but possibly illegal.

There are certainly instances when drawing a gun will expose a person to liability for criminal charges, but others when doing so is legally justifiable. There is also a tactically optimal time to do so. Bear in mind that this does not constitute legal advice, but is merely a discussion on the topic.

A Lawful Draw vs. Brandishing

self defense draw

Legally speaking, there is a difference between drawing a gun in a justifiable manner and brandishing. The latter is a crime, even a felony in some instances and jurisdictions, where a person displays a pistol, knife or other weapon for the purposes of intimidating a victim.

There is also a related charge in some jurisdictions called "improper displaying" which is basically a lesser version of the same charge. But what's the difference? After all, pulling a gun can intimidate an attacker; isn't that brandishing in a sense?

The difference is context. When and under what circumstances a person draws a pistol is the differentiating factor in whether a gun is drawn in a justifiable manner and when it isn't. A reasonable fear for life or limb - or that of another - is required in order to justify drawing one's pistol, as well as to shoot it at another person.

For instance, if a person is threatened by another person armed with a baseball bat, then drawing a gun could be said to be reasonable. However, if a door-to-door salesman won't take the hint but isn't necessarily threatening a person...that may not be a justifiable circumstance under which to draw a gun.

In other words, if you aren't prepared to fire if necessary, you shouldn't draw.

When To Draw If A Self-Defense Shooting Is Imminent

drawing handgun

There is also a practical time when a person should draw if a self-defense shooting is likely or imminent to occur due to a threat.

One of the few constants in many defensive shootings, civilian and law enforcement alike, is what's often referred to as the "Rule Of Threes" or the 3/3/3 rule. Essentially, it goes like so:

3 Shots In 3 Or Fewer Seconds At 3 Yards Or Less

In other words, most defensive shootings involve 3 or fewer shots, delivered in 3 or fewer seconds, at a range of 3 or fewer yards. Many occur close to arm's reach. In many defensive shootings, the shooter draws before the person threatening them gets that close, but fires once the attacker is within one to three yards.

Additionally, there is the "21 Foot Rule" to consider. For those that haven't heard of it, an inquisitive officer of the Salt Lake City PD - Sgt. Dennis Tueller - pondered how fast a person armed with a knife could cover a distance of 7 yards or 21 feet. He found it only took about 1.5 seconds.

As a corollary, a defensive shooter has a quandry. If they draw and fire too early, they risk having their motives called into question, i.e "he wasn't close enough to pose a real threat" or something to that effect. Draw and fire too late, and one risks being stabbed, which could result in fatal injury.

At the very least, the draw should occur when the threat is still too far away to reach you, but ideally close enough for the threat to life and limb to be substantiated, so 3 to 7 yards away is about an ideal distance. Obviously, one's life shouldn't be chanced for the sake of appearances, so draw and proceed if facing a real threat.

CCW Training And Shooting Must Include The Draw

ccw shooting training

If one is going to conceal and carry, some CCW training and regular shooting practice is essential. Also, how a person shoots at the range should be altered to keep up the skills necessary to be competent with one's carry pistol.

Defensive shooting is not like target shooting. Aiming fire for a bullseye at longer distances will not set one up for success in a defensive scenario; there isn't the time or the distance.

The concealed carrier should ready for shooting up close and personal. That means different aiming techniques, such as point shooting or flash sighting. It also means practicing the draw stroke as much as possible.

Muscle memory will aid a person more than anything else. A practiced draw at the moment of truth will give you more of an advantage over an attacker than almost anything else.

Sam Hoober

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.