Do You Know Your Enemy?

Over at, there’s a fascinating post today by Greg Ellifritz. Greg is the tactical training officer for a police department in the midwest, and also blogs over at Active Response Training, where he’s the president and primary instructor. (If you aren’t following Greg’s blog yet, add it to your RSS feed now. I’ll wait.)

Greg quoted in his post from Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, who wrote that “if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.” For serious students of self-defense and personal safety, Greg argues convincingly, that means understanding as much as you can about criminal behavior, criminal tactics, and how to respond to those tactics. Are you studying this topic in as much depth as you’re studying to improve your own skills? Military and law enforcement units train extensively on the tactics their opponents use and how to counter them. If you’re serious about safeguarding your own life and the lives of your loved ones, this is critical information.

Anyway, Greg decided, as part of this study, to examine and gather data about the firearms seized by his police department from criminals. He looked at 85 such weapons, and gathered statistics about them. And what he found may surprise you. It surely surprised me, and (since I’m also a mystery writer) I do a lot of reading about criminal behavior.

The most shocking part of Greg’s research? I’ll let him tell it:

Previous research conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics tells us that in all criminal victimizations with firearms; only 11 percent of the victims were shot or shot at. When criminal attacks with all weapons (knives, clubs, etc.) are included, less than one percent of armed criminal victimizations resulted in a gunshot wound. These statistics have always been puzzling to me. Why aren’t more people getting shot by criminals?

Now I know the answer. The criminals’ weapons won’t fire! Let’s break down the numbers again: Out of 85 weapons seized:

  • 24 are not loaded
  • 2 are not loaded with the correct ammunition
  • 9 are completely broken

Combine those facts and you will see that 41 percent of the weapons we seize from criminals are completely non-functional!

Now include the four guns that weren’t fully loaded and the 17 with extremely limited function (no magazines, malfunctioned within the first three rounds, etc.) and take a look at the results. In total, 66 percent of the guns we took from criminals were unable to be fired or could be fired for fewer than three rounds before being empty or experiencing a malfunction!

What does this tell us about criminal behavior that might help us in a self-defense situation? For one thing, it says that resistance against armed assailants is much more likely to be successful than one might think. If a criminal is carrying a gun that is broken, unloaded, loaded with the wrong ammunition, or less-than-fully loaded, he’s banking on the sight of the weapon paralyzing his victim with fear. He’s betting he can intimidate her into compliance. Now, to be sure, compliance – or, at least, temporary compliance until the tactical situation gives one a window for resistance – might well be the best strategy sometimes. This is especially true if there are other “friendlies” in the line of fire. And, there are no guarantees in anything. You might end up being unlucky, and being one of the 11% of crime victims that are shot or shot at. But resisting an attacker armed with a firearm might be a good strategy a shocking percentage of the time.

The other thing that surprised me about Greg’s data: Despite much media fuss (especially in the 1980s and 1990s) about “Saturday Night Specials”, the vast majority of the guns seized by Greg’s department were high-quality, medium-caliber weapons. More than 50% of them were .380 ACP or larger, and there were more 9mms in the sample than any other single caliber. (Anyone who still thinks a .22 or .25 pistol is a good self-defense gun for a woman, go sit on the naughty mat right now.) A healthy fraction were quality brands like Ruger, S&W, and Glock. Interestingly, only 27% of the weapons seized were loaded with high-quality hollowpoint ammunition, and more than half were loaded with FMJ or round-nosed lead target ammo. Why is this significant? FMJ and RNL bullets are more likely to pass through the body and retain a significant amount of their kinetic energy, so injuries from hydrostatic shock are lessened if you’re shot with one.

I’ll let you read the rest of Greg’s article for yourself, but I think it’s important to understand our potential adversaries as well as we understand ourselves and our own capabilities. If we don’t know what sorts of threats we might encounter, how can we equip and train ourselves to overcome them?


  1. Great find! As an NRA certified instructor, I find this very encouraging information indeed – and will be spreading the word.

    Just one small quibble with your comments. While I do not consider a .22 an adequate self defense weapon, I know from long experience teaching novices that it is often the only caliber the new shooter is willing to consider using. It usually takes time and effort for them to overcome their conditioning and become comfortable with larger calibers. In the meantime, if they will actually practice with and even carry the .22, it certainly beats a stick in the eye!

    The gun you NEED is the one you actually have in your hand when the emergency hits you. If the .22 is all you are willing to shoot, then that had darn well be in the hand. Surviving is the key… after that, they’ll most likely be very willing to consider a better gun. 🙂

    I certainly did. This is the story of the man I had to shoot to save my life. I had an extremely inadequate weapon, but it did the job.

    • Thank you for your comment, and for sharing your story! I agree that any weapon is better than no weapon. At the end of the day, survival is what matters, though having a proper weapon certainly ups the odds. So glad your encounter with violence ended with a happy ending – it could so easily have gone the other way.

      • “it could so easily have gone the other way.”

        WHEW, and don’t I know it. 🙂

        One good reason for the last 7 years of serious training and the 9mm I carry on my hip every moment I’m out of my home – and often when I’m inside with the doors locked.

        Some people have asked me what I’m afraid of… and sometimes it’s hard to make them understand that my actions are not driven by fear of anything, just rational preparedness for the unknown that could happen to anyone.

        I wrote this to answer them:
        But this about sums it up.

        “But, in the end, I live and therefore I am. I don’t need any other person’s permission to live or defend myself. I don’t need anyone’s vetting of my intentions or sanity, nor approval for the self defense tool I choose or how I carry it.

        I don’t NEED to explain myself. I don’t NEED any reasons at all.”

      • I agree wholeheartedly. Thank you for your comment!


  1. […] Mom With a Gun poses this question by way of Greg Elfritz (of U.S. Concealed and the venerable Sun Tzu. […]

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