Split-Second Self-Defense: Acting Quickly in an Attack

Col. Jeff Cooper, Retired Speaking at Gunsite Academy Modern Technique of the Pistol
Col. Jeff Cooper, USMC

Colonel Jeff Cooper, founder of Gunsite Academy, often told the story of an acquaintance in South America who stepped out of his front door to see three armed men running towards him at close range. Cooper’s friend quickly drew his pistol and took down all three attackers. As I recall the story, he did this before any of the three men could get a shot off. 

In an armed robbery, car-jacking, home invasion or any other armed attack, there are often a few seconds before the crooks get things organized like they want them. In addition to that, the crooks may be operating under the preconceived notion that their victims are going to be so surprised that they will do exactly as they are told. It is in this short period of time that you can wreck their playhouse–if you act quickly and resolutely.

I have known quite a few people who seem–by their very nature–to be able to quickly size up a problem and move to resolve it. Others will stand there with a shocked look on their face—as if they are wondering why this is happening to them and what in the world they should do about it. This may be due to an individual’s basic nature, or it may have to do with the reactive skills that he or she is taught as a child. On the other hand, when faced with a dangerous criminal attack, I suppose it really doesn’t matter what the cause is. We can learn to program ourselves to respond to emergencies quickly and efficiently.

I think it is also basic human nature that most people simply don’t like to have to think about bad things. We would rather focus on the good things and make every effort to enjoy life. That is all well and good, but we can’t afford to ignore the possibility of having to deal with the evil that lurks in our society.

We can begin to harden ourselves as a target by considering the criminal attacks that we are most likely to encounter. In the Texas border country where I live, I am more likely to encounter a group of armed drug smugglers than you are. Those living in a large city might be far more likely to be the victim of a car-jacking. We each have to simply and realistically consider the types of criminals that we might encounter while going about our daily lives.

The next step is to have a plan for dealing with such encounters. Avoidance would be the first option that we would want to consider. How can I get out and away from this bad deal before anyone gets shot? But we don’t stop there; we develop a plan for dealing with the worst-case scenario–whatever that might be. And we accept the fact that plans–even the best plans–may have to be changed or altered very quickly to deal with the actual situation. And we always keep in mind that acting quickly is nearly always a good idea. 

Any of us can learn to act quickly in a crisis. But we must improve our ability to quickly size up a situation and have a plan to put into effect right now. Acting quickly takes the control away from the criminals and often creates a new scenario that they hadn’t even considered–a scenario in which they lose.

This article first appeared in Shooting Illustrated.

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