It’s something most of us don’t think about — or, more accurately, don’t want to think about: the close-quarters contact shot. As civilized beings, we choose handguns over knives not only because they’re more effective, efficient and safer for defense but also because close-range, interpersonal combat (blood-splatter distance) is understandably abhorrent to most.

Those who purchase handguns for home defense or self-defense hope to never have to use them on anything more than a target. Law enforcement officers don’t want to end a human life any more than the average gun owner. If it is necessary though, officers would prefer to keep their distance from an attacker.

Whether private citizen or LEO, we tend to fire mostly at ranges from 7 to 20 feet when training, and sometimes even closer. These distances are implanted in our minds as “combat distances.” This is from where we are most likely to be firing our weapons in actual self-defense situations. We imagine that when the worst occurs, we will be standing at one of those pre-practiced distances, a solid two-handed hold on our weapons as we bring them on target. We will be able to deliver as many shots as needed to stop the threat before it can reach us. Right? Well, not necessarily.

Close Is a Killer

Uniformed police officers are much more likely to be in a shooting situation under the dynamics described above. We tend to win these confrontations because we are aware of potential threats. In these scenarios, we can approach it with our vehicles or while on foot and, as we do so, position ourselves toward a threat while maintaining the distance from which we feel we can most accurately fire.

What we don’t win as often are the close-range, unexpected assaults launched by persons who previously planned to do us harm, such as someone next to a broken-down vehicle or someone who appears to be stranded. In these situations, we are just as vulnerable as average citizens.

(Note to average citizens: It is no longer safe to be a good Samaritan, armed or not. Possessing a gun does not make you bulletproof. Call 911 to assist those needing aid.)

For the concealed carry permit holder, a lethal-force confrontation is likely to be no different than the situation an LEO faces when caught unaware. It’s going to be a fluid situation — moving and likely off-balance. You likely will not have time to assume that two-handed stance, which is why training in one-handed shooting with each hand is so important.

A predatory individual often wants to quickly close the distance to you because he or she thinks that you can be physically overpowered. An attack of this nature, when the criminal gets in close, is most likely to occur outside the home. There are ways to prevent and defend against this.

First, your awareness level must always be high when you’re in public. This point is emphasized by every credible self-defense instructor. A lot can be averted just by paying attention and knowing when it is time to exit. Quit spending all of your time on your smartphone; it indicates to a predator that you are vulnerable.

Second, carry your firearm where it can be accessed while you deliver physical self-defense blows: punches, knee strikes, kicks, stomps, eye gouges or even bites. There are dozens of fantastic concealed carry systems out there that do a fine job of keeping your gun hidden. But some products conceal your pistol or revolver so deeply that it cannot be accessed quickly in actual combat distances.

You simply must be able to access your gun with one hand in case your other hand is occupied stalling the attacker. For me, this is best accomplished with a strong-side outside-the-waistband holster in the appendix position under a light concealing garment. A pocket holster or inside-the-waistband holster can be effective as well.

(1) A pistol must be “in battery” in order to fire. When the slide is all the way forward, the pistol can shoot. (2) If the slide gets pressed back “out of battery,” all of a sudden it cannot fire. The shooter will have to pull it back away from the attacker and allow the barrel to return to the “in-battery” position to get a shot off.

Define ‘Direct’

What defines a “direct-contact” shot? It’s simple: a shot that is fired with the muzzle pressed against the intended target. This may seem obvious, but it is important to understand the distinction between a contact shot and a close-proximity shot. Why? So that you can use the correct tools. When you get right down to it, a revolver is the only repeating handgun that you can count on to deliver multiple direct-contact shots. A semi-automatic pistol’s slide guarantees that it can only be counted on to deliver one such shot.

If you put a small amount of pressure against the muzzle of any tilting- or rotating-barrel semi-auto, you can force the gun out of battery. It will be unable to fire and at best induce a stovepipe malfunction. (The Walther PPK, PPKs and newer CCP are exceptions to this rule. The barrels are affixed to the frames and do not move during the firing cycle.) Believe me, when you’re trying to take a direct-contact shot, you will be putting a lot of pressure against your opponent.

I’ve seen contact shots save the lives of law enforcement officers, but they are gruesome situations. In every academy class I’ve taught, I show the video “Ultimate Survivors,” which depicts four incidents of officers overcoming horrendous odds. In one such encounter, the suspect absorbs 10 solid hits from the officers’ .38s before a contact shot through the top of the skull ends the threat.

In Ohio a few years ago, an officer initiated a final direct-contact shot against a suspect who was trying to murder him. The officer had already shot him several times with his .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol with no effect. He finally sent a round of .40 through the suspect’s face … and also through his own hand on the back of the suspect’s head.

The officer survived the shot and returned to duty. The suspect did not and did not return to jail. This case illustrates that a close-contact shot can sometimes be made with a semi-automatic. Although I do not know if the officer’s pistol malfunctioned, he fortunately needed only the one shot.

Hard Truths About Contact Shots

When you consider life-or-death struggles, you have to think about the full 360 degrees and not just what you’ve likely trained for on a static range. Study your current self-defense plan, mode of carry and weapon selection. Have you ever even considered defense against a close-quarters attack? Women have more concerns, such as being sexually assaulted — the ultimate definition of a close-quarters attack.

Where are you carrying your gun? Is it in a purse or somewhere similarly difficult to access? How fast can you get to it? Can you access it while you’re on the ground? The answer to these last two questions is why I carry my backup revolver in my left-front pants pocket. As long as it’s there, I know I can get to it, even if I am knocked to the ground or struggling to maintain control of my duty pistol.

In a close-quarters situation, you may be firing into an attacker’s leg, arm, neck or pelvic girdle. Such shots are surrounded by difficult questions and difficult realities that highlight the fact that the world can be a down-and-dirty place. Hopefully, none of us will ever need to deliver a direct-contact shot (or any shot for that matter). But the time to think about that possibility is now, not while locked in a life-or-death struggle.