Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fighting with Averages

I often see people throw around averages when discussing preparations for self defense.  Many cite averages to justify their choice for a defensive arm.  Revolver guys will use averages to justify their choice of a 5 or 6 shot handgun.  Sub-compact guys will also cite averages to justify their choice of a handgun with limited capacity.

I recently posted a review of the Springfield XD-S .45 ACP sub-compact handgun on the Military Arms Channel.  I mention in the review that the XD-S only carries 5 rounds of .45 ACP and I would rather have the handgun chambered for 9mm so I could have a couple of extra rounds.

A viewer to the channel raised the argument that 5 round was ample because the average gunfight only requires 2-3 rounds to be fired.  Here is the posters comment:
I'm not as concerned as others about magazine capacity because most gunfights last only 2-3 rounds. And like Col. Jeff Cooper used to say: "If you can't do the job with 2-3 rounds, then you have no buisness carrying a pistol in the first place.
I have a problem with planning your self defense strategy around averages.  If the average number of shots fired to end a fight is 3 rounds, that means some gunfights required more rounds to be fired and some required fewer to be fired.  It's safe to say that in that average more than one gunfight required more than 5 rounds to be fired.

What happens if you encounter two or more armed thugs with your 5 shot pistol?  Do the averages say you will need to fire 2-3 rounds at each assailant?  We don't know.  Most who cite the averages for gunfight statistics have no idea how the data for the averages were collected or what types of shootings they included.

The FBI is the source of the 2-3 shots fired average.  The data is collected from police shootings, not civilian shootings.  There is a difference.

Many training organizations have collected their own data based on training done with paintball guns, soft air guns and with Simunitions.  Gabe Suarez has this to say about what he's seen in training.
Defenders will fire their weapons until the threat disappears. That means that until the role player falls down (simulating effective hits delivered), or runs away (removing the target), the good guy will keep firing. The concept of school solutions, controlled pairs, or otherwise artificially limiting the number of shots (as one does in a firing string on the range) does not hold up even in guys who’ve been extensively trained to do it.
 This is how things typically go in a real world civilian gunfight.  The good guy gets scared, pulls their weapon and proceeds to shoot until there is no more threat.  The bad guy will do one of two things, stand and fight or flee.  With semi-auto pistols shots get fired very quickly.  Hit probabilities are relatively low, regardless of how extensively you've been trained.  That means the person with the most rounds in their magazine has a decided advantage.  The more attackers there are, the more rounds the defender will need.

Some will argue that having spare magazines will remedy the issue of only having a few rounds in the pistol.  Suarez, and others, note that changing magazines in a gunfight rarely goes like it does on the range in practice.  Stress changes everything.  Fine motor skills go out the window and gross motor skills become labored.  Many times the defender will run out of ammo and not notice until they've pulled the trigger several times on an empty handgun.  They're focused on the fight, not the condition of their weapon.  Suarez elaborates:
When a training gun stops firing (due to running out of pellets), the shooter is still in the fight and still trying to shoot his enemy as well as trying to not be hit by him. We see them continue to try to work the trigger for one or two times before there is a realization that there has been a stoppage (malfunction or empty gun). This is followed by a visual examination of the gun, and only then is remedial action taken. 
This can take upwards of a second and a half before anything is even attempted to fix the gun, and then the additional time needed to reload. Thus the idea that one can read the gun’s feel and immediately realize a need to speed load simply does not hold up. Running out of ammo is usually a fight ender if there has been a failure to stop, or there are multiple adversaries at hand.
The fact is you will fire more rounds than you think you might in a gunfight.  Being forced to reload your weapon adds an avoidable failure point.  Having more rounds in the magazine does increase your effectiveness in a fight.

When planning for self defense I recommend you think beyond averages.  I view averages as bare minimums because they don't take into account the extremes you're likely to encounter in a fight.  I do carry sub-compacts with limited magazines capacities, but I only do so for short trips or as a back-up weapon to a larger handgun.  When I go to the store, I'll throw a XD-S or Shield in my pocket if I'm in a hurry.  When I leave town or plan on being out for the day traveling around, I will bring my Glock 19.  If I know I'm going into a bad area, I will most certainly bring my Glock 19.

The use of small pistols like the XD-S, LCP, Shield, Kahr's, Nano, etc. is a compromise.  I understand that when I reach for a sub-compact I'm committing to living with the compromise I've just made.   Ideally, I would never leave the house without one or more handguns with at least one carrying 15+ rounds.


  1. I agree completely. I try to assume that in a situation where I can't think, that is my processing power is trying to keep me from panicking and alive, having things set up far in advance so that I can process simple motor skills will allow me the best advantage. When it comes down to it, it's the guy whom makes the fewest mistakes that survives and not having five extra rounds of ammo might be a life threatening error.

  2. I feel the exact same way, from the first to the last word above. I can't stand when someone says "if you need more than 7 rounds then you need more practice" (obviously in reference to their .45 1911's capacity). I've always countered with "Against how many bad guys? What if they're behind cover? What if its dark? You do realize they'll be moving at a high rate of speed and will likely have the drop on you, right? In other words, you'll be REACTING to their action. Well you take your 7 and I'll take my 16. Oh and I've always been taught that in a firefight, you're looking for firepower superiority, not precision sniping headshots." Admittedly, that US Army training though, not some hot shot $1000 course where I shoot paper while diving behind cover and such :)

  3. *Every gun is a compromise.*

    The moment everyone accepts this, the less arguments there will be about other people's choices. I accept that my 6+1 .40S&W sub-compact is a compromise. I could have gone with the 9mm version of the same gun and added an extra round, or even with a completely different gun, like a double-stack compact, and had twice as much per mag. But, the loss of an extra round for what I gain when going from 9mm up to .40 is a compromise I'm willing to make. And the comfort and concealability of my single-stacked sub-compact is another advantage that I gain by my consciously chosen compromise. Sometimes I carry a full-sized 1911 chambered in .45, and *insert same spiel about compromising...*

    My ideal gun would be a .308 that weighs 3 lbs, kicks like a .22, has long range capability while not over-penetrating targets at close range, and is easy to conceal even though it's got a 20 round mag: IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN. Therefore, I compromise...

  4. I'd rather look at my mag and see that I have 5 rounds left then watch the slide lock back and know that I need another round. High capacity, because you never know what the situation requires until it's over.

  5. I don't know much about this other that what I've read, but I do agree with most of what this post says. However, a counterpoint could be something like choosing carrying a subcompact auto or a small revolver is likely to mean that the individual will probably carry it more often due to its small and easy-to-carry size. In addition to this, in most of the surveillance footage I've watched of various CCW holders breaking up robberies etc. consists mostly of the CCW taking cover, waiting until the assailant's attention is somewhere else, then drawing and squeezing off one or two rounds which sends the robbers flying out the door faster than I ever thought possible. The other incidents usually consist of the CCW holder just showing their weapon which is enough to discourage most potential muggers. In addition to that, if there are multiple assailants and you need more than that five or six rounds you are carrying in your revolver, chances are that you are dead anyways, and you are better off just trying to get away than really engaging. Again, this is just my opinion, but I would like to hear what people think of it.

  6. I think it also makes a difference on body type. I am only 5'7", 155lbs, so carrying something to big can be an issue. I am not a big gorilla over 6ft like MAC. I have been carrying a LCP or XD subcompact in 40....but probably should have got it in 9. Also down south it gets warm in the summer. So carrying something little is better than nothing (thats what she said...)