Contact Distance Shooting…Rescuing a Friend or Family Member

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles, News and Tactical Advice

  • SumoMe

  written by: Greg Ellifritz



Have you ever thought about how you would rescue a friend, partner, or loved one who was engaged in a life or death struggle with a criminal?


It may be a little more complex than you have imagined.


Awhile back a concealed carry permit holder named Perry Stevens in Louisiana heroically took up the role as rescuer when a police officer needed some assistance.


You can read about his story at the link below.


Bystander Fired Deadly Shot, Not Officer


The officer was attacked by a man to whom he had just issued a citation.  The man knocked the officer to the ground and was on top of him, beating the officer with his fists.  The officer could not escape and, recognizing he was at risk of serious injury, he shot his assailant one time in the torso.  The gunshot had no effect and the assailant continued to assault the officer.



By that time, Mr. Stevens (who was shopping nearby) noticed the altercation and went to his truck to obtain his legally-carried pistol.  Mr. Stevens pointed the gun at the man on top of the officer and warned him to stop.  The attacker ignored the warnings and Mr. Stevens fired four shots with his .45 pistol into the attacker’s torso.



The four gunshots had no effect on the man who was still beating the officer.  Mr. Stevens gave an additional verbal command, closed the distance and fired one more shot.  That shot hit the assailant in the head, killing him instantly and ending the assault on the officer.



Mr. Stevens performed exceptionally well.  Five shots.  Five hits.  All against a moving target with an innocent person in very close proximity.  Would you have done as well?


The hero of the story


We see this type of “partner rescue” scenario in police shootings with some regularity.  Usually they don’t turn out quite as well as this one.  The victim officer is often mistakenly shot by the rescuing officer.



Even if you aren’t a police officer, you should be prepared to handle this type of event.  The victim that you rescue might be a spouse or a family member.  Husbands have rescued wives by shooting men in the process of committing a rape.  Wives and girlfriends have shot criminals who are beating or stabbing a loved one.  Parents have shot criminals attempting to molest or kidnap children. All of these shootings happen under frenzied conditions with innocent victims very close to the criminal attacker.


Have you ever trained to rescue a loved one in a position like this?








You can’t just stand at a safe distance and take the shot. In a rapidly moving attack, your loved one could end up in this position in a matter of a few seconds.















Here are some guidelines to follow in case you are ever forced to rescue a partner or loved one from a lethal force threat at very close range:



1)      Get close enough that you can guarantee your hit.  Too many potential rescuers begin firing as soon as they become aware of the problem.  In the incredibly dynamic nature of a close range lethal force attack, both the criminal and his victim will likely be moving.  Taking a long range shot is a recipe for disaster.  Move in close enough to make sure your shot hits the bad guy and not your loved one.



2)      Assure a clear entrance.  Make sure no part of your (or your partner’s) body is between the muzzle and the attacker you intend to shoot.  This seems like common sense, but it is actually fairly easy to shoot a hand or arm that is pushing, grabbing, or striking the attacker.



3)      Consider non-traditional targets.  In a close quarters gunfight, traditional targets like the center of the chest or head may not be available.  Shots to the armpit, neck, or pelvis are likely to be effective and may be faster than waiting for an opportunity to take the traditional “center mass” shot.


If you had to rescue the person on top in this situation, where would you shoot? A traditional center mass shot on the bad guy (on bottom) wouldn’t be available.



4)      Do as much as possible to assure a safe exit.  Most modern defensive hollowpoint ammunition will not exit the torso of the criminal you shoot, but rounds do occasionally pass through the intended target.  Make sure the victim you are rescuing isn’t directly in the path of a potentially exiting bullet.



This is harder than you might think.  Bullets don’t always take straight paths through the body.  Sometimes they hit objects like belt buckles or items in pockets and are deflected.  Sometimes their path is altered when they strike a bone.  Although it isn’t an exact science, bullets will generally track in a fairly straight line through the attacker.



Imagine the scenario discussed above.  If Mr. Stevens was shooting at an attacker who was straddling the officer, shooting the attacker in the back might not be the best move.  If the bullets passed through the attacker, they would hit the officer on the ground.  A better option would be to shoot from the side (aiming for the straddling attacker’s armpit area) so that if the bullet exits the body it wouldn’t hit the victim you are trying to protect.



Also make sure that your other hand is not on the far side of the attacker’s body where the bullet might exit.  I know of a police officer who grabbed a close range attacker’s hair to facilitate a better head shot.  He pulled downward on the attacker’s hair and shot the man under the chin.  The exiting .40 bullet blew off part of the officer’s thumb.  The officer won the fight, but I bet that he would have rather taken an additional millisecond before shooting to ensure than all of his body parts were clear of the bullet’s most likely trajectory.



5)      Keep the muzzle at least two inches away from the attacker’s body when you shoot.  Having taught close quarters shooting techniques to thousands of students over the last 15 years, I’ve noticed a predictable pattern in the “partner rescue” scenarios I conduct…



The rescuing person tends to jam the muzzle of the gun into the attacker’s body to facilitate an assured shot.  There is some primal instinct in play here as almost every student I have ever taught has done a similar thing.


Avoid the urge to jam the muzzle into the attacker’s body during your rescue attempt.


With an autopistol, jamming the muzzle into an attacker may activate the “out of battery” safety mechanism.  The gun is designed so that it can’t be fired if the slide is pulled back and the live cartridge isn’t fully supported by the chamber.  With some guns, it only takes ¼ inch of slide movement to deactivate the trigger!



Try this:  With an UNLOADED (and triple-checked) auto pistol, press the muzzle into your own hand hard and try to pull the trigger.  You will find that it won’t work with most modern semi-automatic pistols.  If doing this with an unloaded and triple checked pistol still makes you squeamish, you can accomplish the same goal by using a training barrel or pushing the muzzle into something like a mattress or firm pillow instead.


Displacing the slide even 1/4″ on a Glock pistol will deactivate the trigger



Keeping your muzzle at least two inches from the attacker will ensure that the slide stays in battery and that blood and tissue doesn’t blow back into your pistol’s action to cause a malfunction.



The partner rescue scenario is far more complex than most people consider.  Find a good training partner and practice some of these techniques.  Better yet, seek out some professional training.  Active Response Training conducts regular training classes that cover close quarters shooting tactics and partner rescues.  Use the “contact” link on the homepage if you have a range and would like to host one of our classes!




12 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Paul Pawela says:

    Excellent advice in most cases, some additional thought is it may turn into a shooting however if may not and in the may not catagory one has to talk about how to prone the badguy out and maybe even secure them. How and when you do that is important, at one post we had a security team that did not have flex cuffs or hand cuffs and we had an employee that went postal shooting 3 people the shooter was restrained with a dog lesh.
    First aid needs to be taked about as well you are going to have injuries which some may be life threatenig you need to now how to fix this asap. God Bless stay safe.

  2. Greg Ellifritz says:

    Before anyone else makes a comment about the picture of me muzzling my hand as being “moronic” or violating one of Jeff Cooper’s four rules of firearms safety, let’s talk about the “four rules of firearms safety”. According to Col. Cooper, the four rules are as follows:


    It is my contention that ALL of these rules must be broken at times when handling a firearm.

    ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED- If we observed this one, we could never take a Glock apart for cleaning. Doing so requires that we pull the trigger. If all guns are always loaded, pulling the trigger of a loaded gun for cleaning purposes would be a violation.

    NEVER LET THE MUZZLE COVER ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO DESTROY – If you have done any serious work with a handgun, you have swept some part of your body with the muzzle of the gun while drawing. It’s inevitable. There are some body positions and holster carry sites that make it impossible for this not to occur. Think about drawing from appendix carry while seated in a vehicle. It is nearly impossible not to sweep your own leg. The holstered gun itself is pointed at your body every time you sit down! If you haven’t muzzled yourself occasionally while drawing, I submit that you haven’t trained hard enough.

    KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOUR SIGHTS ARE ON THE TARGET- Put yourself in this position…you are a SWAT officer entering a building and you start taking fire from a suspect inside. Rounds are flying all around you as you get into position to clear your cover and shoot back. As you are about to break the edge line of your cover and are seeing bullets impact all around you, where is your trigger finger? The textbook answer is “on the frame”. In real life, I can assure you that your finger will be on the trigger well before you actually see the target. There just isn’t any time to waste.

    BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET AND WHAT’S BEYOND- Have you ever held a suspect at gunpoint in pitch black darkness? Think about a situation so dark that your flashlight barely illuminates the suspect. There’s no possible way to see what’s beyond the “target”. It’s simply too dark. Do you holster up and let the suspect get away or potentially shoot you because you can’t see what’s beyond? You won’t do that. I promise. You’ll continue to point your gun right at the bad guy even though you can’t see “what’s beyond”. I’ve been there.

    Think about another darkness scenario…you are being fired upon in pitch black darkness and you don’t have a flashlight. All you can see is the muzzle flash of your opponent’s weapon. You can’t clearly identify your target. Do you shoot back or just cower in fear, waiting for one of his rounds to hit you?

    Those are just a few examples of how the “rules” get broken (and rightfully so) on a daily basis. I’m not saying that the “rules” are useless, only that they are at best considered guidelines for safe gun handling. They aren’t absolute.

    Breaking the rules is undoubtedly hazardous. But occasionally the risk is outweighed by the reward. I would submit that in each of the above instances, the consequences of breaking the rule ultimately yield far better results than would be achieved if the rule was to go unbroken. In legal terms, we would call this “The Doctrine of Competing Harms”. Both solutions are potentially bad. We have to choose the one that is “less bad”.

    I’ve seen hundreds of instances when my students have been unable to pull the trigger in close range gunfight scenario training because they have pushed the muzzle into their opponent’s bodies and taken the slide out of battery. I’ve tried numerous “safe” methods of teaching this concept. Unfortunately, they didn’t work. Talking about the issue didn’t change the students’ responses under stress.

    This is an EXPERIENTIAL issue. I’ve found that students need to FEEL the slide going out of battery when pushed against live flesh in order to understand how this issue will affect them in combat. Pushing the muzzle against some inert hard object just doesn’t work the same way. In order to properly understand the issue and implement an adequate combative solution, the student must understand exactly where his/her weapon goes out of battery and exactly how much pressure it takes against flesh to achieve that malfunction. There is no other way to adequately address the topic.

    It’s all about risk vs reward. In my mind, the risk of muzzling yourself with an unloaded and triple checked firearm is less than the risk of not knowing when your slide goes out of battery in a contact distance gunfight.

    You may not feel the same way and I respect that. It’s “big boy rules” and we all must understand the consequences of our actions. If you don’t think the risk is worth the reward, don’t do it. I’m not here to tell you how to make your own decisions.

    But I will tell you that my “violation” of firearms safety rules number one and two has developed information that has the potential to save the lives of every student I teach. I don’t think that saving my students’ lives is a “moronic” endeavor. I consider it a risk worth taking.

    Feel free to disagree but your disparaging comments will not be approved for publication on this site.


    • ferndale says:

      i’m assuming your response was related to a deleted comment, no?

      i think the strictness of some people in relation to these safety rules is to limit liability of instructors and ranges. another thing is that everybody like to catch the teacher mispelling a word on the blackboard.

      blogs are merely a single person’s opinion. opinions which any thinking adult can evaluate on their own. somehow i was able to unload my xd9, rack the slide several times, insert an empty magazine and test it out the out of battery safety for myself. who’d’a’thunk it was possible. i never knew about the out of battery feature of my xd9 until you said so.

    • Marcus Wynne says:

      Yay! Common sense instead of slavish adherence! Thinking about the principles behind the rules instead of the letters…wow! Nicely stated, Greg. And what a refreshing breath of fresh air. Great work and thank you!

      cheers, m

    • Michael North says:

      Saw a taped lecture by COL Cooper where he discussed rule 1 & basically said –clear it and it remains clear and safe until it has left your hand,then treated as loaded again–my paraphrase,not quote,he was very aware of problems with unbending literal interpretation of general rules

  3. swatdoc says:

    Wow! On the defensive! Of note, you specifically stated use an UNLOADED (emphasis yours) and triple checked weapon, so please ignore the haters.

    Other techniques for partner rescue: hook your non-dominant arm through that of the attacker (when possible) so you move with him. And when things are bad-breath close, use an edged weapon. Several good shots to an adversary’s neck with a TDI blade will eventually get his attention. Forearm flexor tendons also a good target. Hey, I learned all this stuff from you!

  4. Trevor Shepherd says:

    Wow! Someone who actually understands common sense!

    Greg said, “I’m not saying that the “rules” are useless, only that they are at best considered guidelines for safe gun handling. They aren’t absolute.”
    My comment: I definitely need to take some classes that you’re teaching! You make sense. Common sense. Which is too often either ruthlessly refused or at least held in contempt by too many instructors out there. But you not only accept common sense, you can actually articulate it! There are a handful of people out there, probably more than I realize, who really do make sense and I want to get taught by them. Greg, Michael Bane, Ralph Mroz, Michael Janich. I read everything I can find written by these guys, and watch every video that I can get ahold of. Thanks for standing up (at your keyboard) and writing out that piece about the rules. Safety is crucial with firearms so that firearms owners and their loved ones do not accidentally get hurt, and so that the anti-gun nuts can not have more reasons to try to take away our guns. But I have long believed that you can not be safe with firearms unless you are willing to use common sense. Blindly following “rules” and not realizing that you HAVE to mentally make exceptions to those rules all the time will just lead to accidents because the gun owner is too busy fooling himself about safety issues.

  5. Trevor Shepherd says:

    I forget where I read or saw this, maybe a Michael Bane video, maybe it was on the pages of this blog, maybe in Steven Wenger’s email newsletter, but somewhere I saw a technique where they teach to go ahead and push the muzzle right into the bad guy, then pull back away from the bad guy’s body and fire. I can’t remember where I saw that, but I know that they explained that the gun will not fire while up against the bad guy’s body.

  6. Grady Hardin says:

    Looks like you have a bit more info for firearms. I am a NRA old guy & I WILL be modifying mu courses!!!! Thanks Ya’hear!!! Great job!!!

  7. tt says:

    One way to go with the natural instinct to put the muzzle on the deadly aggressor is to use an extended, non threaded barrel.

    • Greg Ellifritz says:

      Not exactly true. try the test I described with an extended barrel. It will occasionally take the slide out of battery, especially if the force is applied at an angle.

  8. Barry G. says:

    When the shit is hitting the fan and the fight must be stopped right this second… I recommend – Jam the muzzle deep into the offenders mouth. Then you have a lever to push the head into a position that will provide a safe backdrop when the round exits the neck after splitting the spine. Also, throat stuff is not rigid enough to take the slide out of battery. And, no worries about muzzle blast. I’ve only had occasion to do that one time and the pistol cycled normally.
    I realize this will seem extreme to people who can’t be relied to actually fight. So, for you, just ignore my comments.

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