I never want to find myself in a critical situation in which I have to pull the trigger on my firearm to protect life. I hope I never have to live out that moment. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it or trained for it or considered the worst-case scenario. And I know a lot of other people have thought about it too. As a defensive firearms instructor, I’ve heard the question countless times. “How do I know when to shoot?”


Undoubtedly, there are a lot of rules and regulations we need to think about when we decide to keep firearms for self-defense and home protection. And we certainly need to consider the aftermath if we ever have to use a gun to stop a threat. No matter what the situation, there will be physical, emotional, financial and legal ramifications.

Knowing what your rights are and training to better understand how to respond to a threat are necessary and beneficial. But I recently heard a unique and profound response that sheds some light on that all-too-familiar question, “How do I know when to shoot?”

It came from Jimmy Graham, founder and CEO of Able Shepherd, who spent more than 15 years in the U.S. Navy SEALs and served for seven years as lead instructor for an elite federal government protective detail.

His response to the question was actually another question: What would happen if you didn’t?


That’s quite a powerful thought, isn’t it? Think about it. What would happen if you had a tool for self-defense but didn’t use it? What if you didn’t stop the attacker? What would the consequences be if you didn’t shoot? Would you suffer? Would a loved one get hurt? Would the aggressor continue on to target other people? Would you or someone else die?

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to find out the answers to any of those alternatives. I would want to take my chances with using my firearm and protecting life. And that’s what’s so powerful about Jimmy’s reply. It makes us think. And it helps us realize that even though the situation may be absolutely horrific and the thought of pressing the trigger painfully difficult, the reality could be so much worse if we don’t take action. That’s something we need to come face to face with before we ever come face to face with violence.