Deadly Force Counter-Attacks

Military, law enforcement and the private citizen all share one…

Military, law enforcement and the private citizen all share one common trait in regards to personal protection — they all rely on various types of vehicles for transportation. In the 21st century, the American cop would be lost without it. Yes, there has been a trend for more community policing, getting out of the “rolling billboard” to talk with citizens and business owners, which is a good thing. But when trying to get from one dispatch to another, there is nothing faster than the automobile. Plainclothes officers, working in an undercover capacity or are involved in follow-up investigations need their unmarked car to get from place to place when conducting surveillance, interviewing informants/witnesses or just getting from one district court to another. The vehicle is an indispensible piece of equipment, which means we need to think about what we will do if we are attacked while in our “mobile office.”

Drive On
The term ‘stopping power” is used frequently in the firearms press with ballistics tables showing the expansion of a bullet, velocity and how much kinetic energy a particular projectile produces in the hope of selecting the right load for a chosen firearm. Regardless of whether a bullet is fired from a rifle or pistol I doubt that any will come close to the kinetic energy produced by an automobile that is accelerating out of the kill zone. If you are attacked while seated in your car the best thing to do is punch the accelerator and drive away. If the attack does not involve the threat of deadly force such as driving through an unruly crowd, which is doing nothing more than banging on the hood of your car, then the best thing to do is “goose” the accelerator and “move” those in your way out of your way. While certainly frightening to those in the car, such behavior does not rate the use of deadly force. Getting out of the car could end up with you being “grabbed and dragged” into the crowd, so remain in the car and keep moving.

However, if you are attacked in your vehicle and the threat of deadly force is apparent (a gun is displayed, shots fired into the vehicle, and so on) and you are quite clear that the standard of intent, ability, opportunity and jeopardy have been met and deadly force is reasonable based on the circumstances at hand… then drive on. The foot-pounds of energy created by the weight and forward velocity of your vehicle will far exceed that of any firearm.

In the early part of my law enforcement career, I was guarding a prisoner in a judge’s chamber for a pre-trial meeting. The prisoner’s lawyer had not arrived and the judge and prosecutor were discussing a local police agencies bid to obtain hollow point ammunition, which had become a public spectacle via the press. The judge was a tobacco-chewing, good ole country boy type who relied a lot on common sense. As he talked about the story he said, “Hell…reasonable deadly force is reasonable deadly force. You can’t make killin’ nice. If killin’ is reasonable then it doesn’t matter if you use a hollow point, a regular bullet or drop a tree on them…the killin’ is still reasonable based on the circumstances!” Too bad that this type of common sense is mostly gone in our legal system, but what he said is true. If facing a deadly attack in a vehicle, the vehicle is the weapon…just be prepared to articulate why you used it as such.

Get Out
The worst thing that can happen in a vehicle attack is for the vehicle to become disabled. At that point, you are sitting in a sheet metal coffin that has little cover from incoming fire. Much has been said about how good the engine block is, but it is low cover and very hard to hide behind if the attackers have any elevation at all. In addition, if the attack is coming from any direction other than straight ahead, you will have to get out of the vehicle to make use of the engine. If the attack is close at the time you are trying to exit, you might have to shoot through the window glass to repel the attack. Make sure you have “cleared a path” before you exit. Shooting through side glass is not a real problem as it is designed to break and fall. For the close range shots needed in this situation, small arms fire will travel fairly true to the target without too much deflection. Shooting through the windshield or rear window is a bit different, as these pieces of glass will stay together with a single hole and a bit or “spider-webbing” being the result. Also, due to the concave glass, bullet deflection will increase, but if the attacker is within relatively close distance, you should be able to get solid torso hits.

Keep in mind that this type of escape and evasion shooting must be quick and quite aggressive…there is no time to diddle around. Get the gun out and deliver fast hits so that you can get out of what will quickly become a bullet magnet. Attackers will shoot in the direction of the vehicle… do not be in it. Also keep in mind that drawing and using a handgun is such close confines has its share of problems so make sure you know how to deal with them ahead of time. For example, have you ever practiced clearing your seatbelt during or prior to your draw? You do it all the time, you say…but have you ever done it while taking in coming fire and your hands are trying to do multiple things at once? It is wise to handle things one thing at a time. Since I carry on my strong side even when in a vehicle, I like to “evacuate” the seatbelt with my support hand first as it clears it away from my shooting hand, which will be clearing my concealing garment and drawing my pistol. Find out what works for you before you need it. Like many things in combative shooting, this can be practiced and mastered dry so learn how to do it before hand.

Be Aggressive
Regardless of what someone has told you, it is never a good idea to exit the vehicle from the side of the attack. Yes, I know, you will be faster, but if someone throws a punch at you, does it make sense to lean into it? No and it doesn’t make sense to get out of the vehicle into the line if fire, either. Know how to get across the console of any car you are in ahead of time. Even if using a rental vehicle, take a few moments to know how the door handles work, how to release the seatbelts, and how to get your big butt over and out of the passenger door, if necessary. Do not try to figure this stuff out in the middle of an attack. When exiting, try and stay as low as you can to maximize concealment. While doors certainly should not be considered cover, they do have things in them (handles, window motors, etc.) that can stop a bullet and by keeping low you are at least making use of the concealment you have available. While certainly not a given, if your opponent cannot see you, you will certainly be harder to hit. Once the decision is made to leave the vehicle don’t diddle around, try to determine which direction the rounds are coming from, and get low and get out now!

Once you have successfully exited the car, where should you go? It depends on how many people share the car. If you are alone, then you should make use of that solid engine block. If someone is following you, don’t block them in “the coffin,” follow the path of the door and move to the rear axle and tire. The next person will then deal with getting the door out of the way and moving to the front of the car. Unless you had to draw your gun to thwart a close attack inside the car, do not draw until you are out of the vehicle and stable. You really can’t shoot and it will just get in the way as you use your hands to pull yourself across the seat. If your gun is in your hand and you can’t put it back in the holster (or some other place) get your finger out of the tiggerguard as you move so that you don’t shoot yourself or someone else you care about. This activity won’t be pretty, as a matter of fact it will likely be a mess, just do the best that you can under the circumstances.

Shoot and Move
Once you are out of the vehicle and in a position to return fire, let your muzzle lead to the threat. What I mean by this is that it does no good to stick your head up and over the edge of the car if you are not ready to shoot. At some point you will have to either rise over or come around the end of the vehicle in order to return fire, do so in such a fashion that you are ready and able to shoot. Just sticking your head out for a “quick peek” is a good way to get it shot off. Remember, they know where you are, do you know where they are? As soon as possible, get away from the vehicle. It is of no use to you as it is disabled and offers very little true cover—what cover there may be is small and low. Try to get away from it by moving to a location that will offer you a better opportunity to fight. However, don’t just run away. Have a goal that you are trying to achieve, even if it is just trying to create distance between you and your attacker(s). A fast but indirect sprint maybe just what you need to live and fight another day.

There is no ultimate answer to a vehicle attack. In truth, you might just have to “wing it” based on the little information you have and your level of training but one thing is sure…do something. Don’t just sit there and die. Have audacity, be aggressive, do the unexpected but above all…act quickly!

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