By Paul H. Vallandigham

( – When it comes to being in a gunfight, the only rule is to survive. The best gunfight to survive is the one you avoid. Any defensive training instructor, whether involving guns, knives or martial arts will tell you that the first defense is to run away, no matter how good you are. That remains good advice. I have used it in good stead myself, and have several personal accounts from friends and family who were able to run away and live, even though they were armed, or had other more deadly options available to them to employ in self defense.

Nevertheless, I am one of those masochists who has trained for gunfights, and who trains other people to defend themselves if and when they find someone shooting at them. When people find out I have been shot at, and threatened many times, they want to know how I survived the situations.  There are as many different answers as there were situations. My forte, I guess, is my ability to observe people and anticipate their behavior.  I recognize predatory behavior in humans, and make decisions to take action without hesitation.

Several years ago, a famous gun writer named Jeff Cooper opened an amazing training school for pistol and riflemen at his home in Arizona.  He reduced the NRA’s Ten Commandments of Gun Safety to Four Rules of Safety.  I was impressed with the Colonel’s efforts, and thought someone (like me – funny how that always works out that way) needed to reduce the Rules of Gun Fighting to a few basic concepts, so that shooters could be trained to be in the correct frame of mind if they found themselves heading into a gunfight.  My first article listed the first Four Rules. But, after about two years I reviewed my work.  I considered a problem brought to light by the unwillingness of Korean War fighter pilots to fire their guns, no matter how much training they had.  Soldiers in Vietnam, as well, were often reluctant to actually aim their rifles at the enemy, even when their position was being overrun.  I then added the Fifth Rule. The Five Rules have now been around, and shared with other defensive instructors for a few years, and I believe they are finding wide acceptance, and little criticism.


“You are not bulletproof.”

RULE #1: Bring a gun.  If you are going to a gunfight, have a (loaded) gun – one that you have practiced with. Ideally, you know how to shoot so well that the gun has become an extension of your hand and fingers. You can now point a finger at any object and be fairly sure that your finger is actually pointing at the object. If you practice with your defense gun, you should be able to draw it and point it at any object, squeeze the trigger and see your bullet hit whatever you are looking at.

RULE #2: Incoming rounds have the right of way!  You are not bulletproof. Forget about that quick draw. Your first response to trouble is to seek cover. Train yourself to be aware of cover as you go about your daily life.  Your gun will probably be carried concealed, and there is really no quick draw from under a jacket, vest, or coat, etc.   Regardless how quick you are at bringing a gun out from its holster, your first move should be instead to seek cover.  You can draw while moving to cover.  In my younger days under ideal circumstances, I could draw and engage two targets in under one second.   Even as quick as that, I can be making myself a smaller target and be moving to cover.  Remember, you are not bulletproof, so forget everything you see on TV.  I hate to break it to you, but McGyver wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the real world.  The good news is that bad guys have learned their gun fighting skills from the television and rap videos.  This will give you a decided advantage.

RULE #3: Make haste slowly! While full-capacity magazines and semi-automatic pistols provide today’s gunfighter with more, their arrival on the market coincides with multiple assailant attacks, so there is no real advantage.  You can be killed by just one lucky shot fired at you by someone who couldn’t hit the barn door if you closed him in the proverbial barn from inside it.   Sage gunfighter’s advice from the 1800’s is still valid: make every shot count. As a civilian, you have no business spraying bullets recklessly around, even when your life is in danger. God help you if an innocent by-stander is hit by one of your rounds. You can expect to be judged not only by a prosecutor, and possibly by a judge and jury on criminal charges, but also by a jury in a wrongful death civil suit if you survive the gunfight and your opponent doesn’t.  Be very careful when you fire your gun. You still have to be sure of your backstop, so that you don’t hit innocent bystanders.  Make those shots count. You should also consider that you have no idea when or if help will arrive. Whatever ammo you have with you is all you get to survive. Use it sparingly. Two recent Medal of Honor winners were Marine snipers who volunteered to drop into Mogadishu, Somalia, to save a downed helicopter crew.  The two snipers did well, until they ran out of ammo. Their families received those awards.

Rule #4: Stay in the fight until your opponent flees, stops shooting and gives up or is dead.   In a gunfight, you must be in the frame of mind to be the meanest junkyard dog that mankind has ever met.  Don’t be bashful:  yell, growl and snarl at your attackers while pressing your counter-attack.  Be so aggressive that your attackers decide they don’t want to continue attacking you, and leave you alone. Remember, the goal is to survive. If you are wounded, stay in the fight. Most pistol bullets do not kill, and are eminently survivable. So stay in the fight.

Rule #5:  Remember, you are shooting to save innocent life – your own or another innocent.  You are not shooting to kill!  Experienced instructors now understand why I added Rule #5. We are all raised, at least in the USA, to believe that is morally wrong to kill another person.  In church schools, no one talks about the exception for self-defense.  Knowing this basic tenant ahead of time will help anyone involved in a deadly force encounter to justify their own actions and to help them cope with the aftermath.

If you are placed in a situation where you are involved in a gunfight, you have a right to be not just angry, but furious with the person(s) who created the situation.  If, as the result of the gunfight, one or more of the bad buys dies, there is no shame to fall on you. The bad guys started the situation, and threatened innocent life. They had no right, legally or morally to do so.   They could have ended their attack and lived at anytime after you made it clear that you were armed and willing to defend yourself.  You will have to live with the fact that you have taken a life. No one is going to be happy about having to do that. The old gunfighters didn’t brag about their kills, either. They were just as moral as you are. You go on with your life, prepared to defend it, and sure that if another occasion arises where you are called on to defend yourself, or other innocents, you will not hesitate. I can’t think of a better kind of person to live next to, or to walk by my side.

4 thoughts on “5 Simple Rules of GUNFIGHTING”
  1. I also developed five rules of “gun fighting”. They are similar to yours. Feel free to use mine as they were developed over many years and had input from many folks. I served as a military police office for several years. My father was city policeman in Tennessee.

    James Marie’s Five Rules of Gun Fighting.
    RULE #1: Bring a reliable, loaded gun and extra ammo.
    RULE #2: You are not bulletproof — find and use cover.
    RULE #3: Make every shot count!
    RULE #4: Be aggressive and Stay in the fight, even if wounded, until your opponent runs, stops shooting or is dead.
    RULE #5: Remember this was self-defense – God gave every creature that Right.

  2. Murdering another human being is morally wrong, whilst killing someone isn’t necessarily so.
    Until a person realises that, they place themselves or/& their loved ones at risk.
    It is best to think long & hard about this & recognise the difference BEFORE anything happens that requires that call to be made.

  3. The “Marine Snipers” mentioned in the above article were 2 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers Delta snipers Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart.

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