There are as many theories on gun disarms as there are guns to disarm; not all of them are effective, but all are risky. (source)
An Open Letter to the Martial Arts World, Re Gun Disarms Audio by Jonathan Fader

As always the internet is full of trends. Some productive. Some not. While others are just good fun. Occasionally you may see a trend that is irritating to you for whatever reason, perhaps it’s just because I am a Martial Arts nerd and my feed is full of martial artists posting all sorts of things, but recently a trend has caught my attention.

The trend is videos, some comical, many just stupid, mocking gun disarms as a option. They usually start with someone showing a disarm technique that they saw going well, but then showing a different cut labelled “In Real Life”, in which the person “dies and goes to heaven.” It all started with a specific Instagram/YouTube video of someone who was or is in Law Enforcement showing techniques that were, to be kind, not very well thought out. An excellent criticism of the video at McDojo life (his assessment is 100% on point) is valid, as while the individual in question seems to start with some good ideas, he generally comes to conclusions or uses techniques that are less than ideal… if not outright stupid. Unfortunately, this led to a trend that makes a lot of people believe that gun disarms are useless and ineffective. This conclusion is not a good one, as there are a lot of different gun disarm techniques, some better, some worse.

Let’s first start with my speculative theory of where gun disarms probably started; in the military. The originals of gun disarms was likely within Special Forces groups, as the application of sneaking up on sentries and taking their gun would necessitate such techniques. Later on, with urban battlefields being more common, it probably became a necessity in the majority of close-quarters battle (CQB) situations; as it is very common for someone to take a corner and stick their gun out first. (Sometimes it is faster to disarm than to shoot, though this is usually because they were caught off guard.) Later it would have been expanded to gun threat situations, AKA robberies.

There is something I want to be very clear about with regards to gun disarms, I am putting it here in writing and I also discuss it in the video later on. That is, gun disarms are NOT for beginners. There are Krav Maga/Self-defence schools and organizations, that will teach brand new people gun disarms before they have even assess their abilities or teach the fundamentals of combat. This kind of attitude, which is frighteningly common, will lead to injury and death without question.

If you cannot punch, kick, maintain balance, understand fight dynamics, be aggressive… [insert other important things]… then trying to disarm a gun from an aggressive or unstable individual is very dangerous and will probably get you killed.

Of course, occasionally you may hear of a person who did a seminar and managed to successfully use what they learned shortly after. This, however, is exceptionally rare and it is likely they were not being completely honest about their background. Additionally you won’t hear about all the times someone tried to disarm someone and failed, because they are probably dead, and dead men tell no tales (as The Pirates of the Caribbean taught us).

Another thing is, if you are teaching gun disarms and you have never fired a gun or do not have even basic understanding on how guns work, then stop teaching gun disarms. Please!

On this point I like to share that, whenever I can, I will use Real (unloaded and made safe) firearms. However, it is rarely the case that I am able, for various legal and safety reasons, and I usually need to use airsoft or other close-to-real guns. This is because they simulate the weight, feel, and mechanics of real guns. I will bring them whenever I am able, even to others’ seminars. Most instructors, however (usually due to the same legal and safety reasons), use fake, rubber or plastic training models. Sometimes, when I let other instructors use my guns, during the disarm the magazine falls out. Instead of completing the disarm and ensuring their own and everyone’s safety, they stop, look down confused, and often panic, as they are scared that they broke my gun. Rather, because of the mechanical nature of the gun and the nature of the gun disarm, the magazine release was pressed and it fell out (which is actually a good thing). However, these instructors were completely caught off guard, which tells me they should not be teaching anything with firearms involved.

There is another oft-given piece of advice; just do what the attacker wants. This is in principle good advice. It works on the assumption that they usually just want your money or property and if you give it to them they will be satisfied leave. This, while somewhat true, is very naïve and a very Western mindset. You are assuming they are playing by the same moral and social rules as you, which is already proven false based on their actions. Giving them what they want MAY be the right choice, but it also may just get you killed if they feel you are being difficult, you or someone else startled them, or they decide it’s easier to kill you anyway. I was just listening to episode #519 of the Tim Ferris podcast where his guest Françoise Bourzat told a story of her and her friend being robed. It went something like this…

A person was behind them with a gun, they realized they were being robbed. The details are fuzzy but she got shot in the thigh and her friend was shot in the head and died. Very sad, but is often the reality of gun threats or robberies, especially outside of North America. There are many more stories like this than you may realize, as in some places it’s better for them to kill you than leave witnesses.

Below is a video in such a situation. She did everything the guy asked but unfortunately he shot her regardless, unprovoked, as she was doing as he asked. Take a look:

Clearly, she has no training, and tactical knowledge or understanding of the situation. She was also more focused on getting the money than paying attention to the attacker. It’s tragic, but it happens.

Let’s pretend she had training, was capable of doing disarms, and was even mildly confident under duress. The moment someone reaches across the counter they are exposing themselves to a disarm, which would be an appropriate time to do any technique that you know as it is now has a higher probability of success.

I tried to find a video of this somewhere online but I could not but I know I have seen it succesfully done before.

No lets take a look at a few robbers that were stopped either with a successful gun disarm or another approach.

In this video though I am not a fan of the technique used it is fine because he followed the principle of stay off the centreline of the muzzle or the “shooty” bit. As long as you remember this anything and everything can happen but you will not get shot. Remember, control that muzzle. For a more detailed explanation of principles of gun disarms as we teach it click here. Though overall it went well for him he was clearly unwilling to use the firearm, which fine considering the size difference the individual was not much of a threat without the gun. He probably should have rendered the weapon safe (activated the safety or “cleared” the firearm if he knows how to) and then used his size to take the individual down and perform a citizen’s arrest. He let the individual to continue to get close to him, which could have resulted in a reverse disarm or him actually needing to shoot the would-be robber; neither of which are great outcomes. But in the end it doesn’t matter, because he stayed off the centerline, didn’t get shot, and walked away to live another day.

Heres another video of a gun robbery, take a look.

My first thought is that robber has terrible situational awareness. My second is if you are going to pull a gun on someone else you better be willing to use it. As you can see when the tables turned, and the criminal had the gun to his head, he was willing to be aggressive and the good guy with the gun was caught of guard and shocked. Remember, if you are going to use a gun to threaten someone and you are not willing to use it, it can go horribly wrong. In this case it turned ok as the store employee managed to get the upper hand and keep the gun of the centreline again.

Here’s another one that went differently.

In this case once again the robber had bad situational awareness and the cowboy ended up taking advantage of it to make is move. He correctly realized he couldn’t get the gun initially, so he went for the gunman and then immediately went for control of the gun arm. Luckily the robber dropped the gun, though you should never expect this to happen. I am not sure if this “cowboy” had any training, but he clearly understood guns, that is he knew to control the muzzle and don’t be in front of the shooty bit.

Okay, so now you have seen a few case studies and maybe you will start to understand that things rarely go according to plan. Often, if you are successful at a disarm it’s probably due to the fact the gunman was caught off guard and, quite frankly, doesn’t really know what they are doing.

Either way, doing what they want can get you killed or it can lead to living another day. Trying something may get you killed or may allow you or others to live another day. Are you starting to see why gun disarms really are not for beginners?

So if you are teaching them to beginners, again. Please stop!

Back to the internet and its criticisms of gun disarms. One of the issues critics always bring up is that if you went for a gun disarm “I would just pull away” or “a trained person wouldn’t do that.” One thing is correct, a truly trained professional, like Instructor Zero, will likely shoot you waaaaay before you can even get near that gun. However, my question, as always, is, “what did you do in life so that a trained professional is pointing a gun at you?” This is not a likely scenario unless you are fighting the cartels, in a war zone, or something where this kind of thing is expected, in which case you will probably be armed and ready, in which case gun disarms are not something you should be thinking about (if you are, everything as going completely, horribly wrong).

Now, in a training sense, one thing that often happens is that if you KNOW the gun disarm is coming your reaction times are going to be considerably faster in getting that shot off. I have posted this video before but it does a great job of illustrating how, when all things are considered equal and the gun disarm is expected, it is 50/50

While absolutely true, the assumption is that you need to be faster than the bullet. This is of course impossible. Fortunately, you don’t need to be faster than the bullet, you just need to be slightly faster than the other person. While, yes, a trigger squeeze is very fast remember, a person robbing or threatening you is not likely to be expecting you to do anything. So you really have lots of time to distract and time it so that all you really need to do is be fast enough to get off the centreline (of the bullet in this case) and gain control.

Getting off that centreline is so important, but when people perform fast disarms they often fail to do so. Remember you MUST assume it is loaded and at least one shot will get off. Based on many of the videos you can also assume any disarm is not going to go as planned, so you better double and triple up your commitment to getting off that centreline. For a bit better explanation I even filmed this video for you!

So I hope that you have gotten a bit more perspective with regards to gun disarms. They are both realistic and possible, but the likelihood of success depends on many factors, from the aggression and skill of the attacker to your own aggression and skill. Things can and will go sideways fast, but if you choose to make your move, sticking to the principles can be the difference between life or death. Remember, doing as they ask MAY save your life, but it all depends on the attacker, so you must be able to read the situation correctly. If not, then going for a disarm was probably your best best.

While technically simple, gun disarms are still situationally exceptionally complicated, so make sure you train properly to ensure that if you find yourself in such a situation you have maximally prepared for your own survival.

Written by Jonathan Fader

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