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I’m a fan of Justified, the six-season FX series based on the work of deceased Michigan writer Elmore Leonard. The series’ executive producer and principal star is Timothy Olyphant. He portrays Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal assigned to Kentucky. Givens made his reputation as a marshal with a fast-draw and deadly shot. He appears to be someone with an in-depth understanding of firearms … especially as this role followed his part in HBO’s Deadwood, where he performed a similar character as Sheriff Seth Bullock.

Not What He Seems

Thus, it is surprising to see him continuously violating a basic rule of self-defense — confusing cover with concealment. There is an especially egregious episode in Season 5. Givens and an individual he is protecting crouch in an upstairs bathroom while they negotiate life and death. A team of very bad and heavily armed men stands just on the other side of the wall.

Actor Timothy Olyphant in a blue V-neck T-shirt and blue blazer squinting into the light of media cameras.

Timothy Olyphant plays law enforcement types on television, but when it comes to learning self-defense skills, he is not a role model. (Photo Credit:

The scene suggests that by hiding in that bathroom, Givens is safe. The setup implies he has both cover and concealment, though he is merely seated on the toilet, around the corner and just out of sight of those who want him dead. If necessary, he can shoot them before they shoot him.

We Know Better

We know that bullets from all of the guns — carried by both the good guys and the bad guys — will easily penetrate two slabs of drywall and a pre-hung interior door. We know that even bullets fired from a .22 LR will penetrate such a wall or door and still retain enough energy to kill. (And no self-respecting mob hitman is going to come at you with a .22.)

In fact, if the mobsters had simply taken a breath and begun firing through the wall, they would easily have killed Givens and his guest. Surely as modern killers who have studied a share of YouTube videos, they know that drywall won’t stop a bullet. But this is TV. And Givens is the principle character. So he has to live, regardless of the absurdity of the situation.

Cover and Concealment in Reality

Chances are remote that hitmen from Detroit will ever corner you in a bathroom. Taking cover in a bathtub and pulling a mattress on top may be a reasonable last resort in a storm, but in a home invasion, it would be a death trap. Today’s bathtubs are usually built from thermo-formed acrylic or fiberglass-reinforced polyester, which will shatter when hit by a bullet.

Look at your home in terms of cover and concealment. You know the house and grounds better than anyone, which means you know your concealment options. Your neighborhood punk may have “cased” your place, but his knowledge is far from perfect.

Cover is a different matter. Very few vertical structures in your home will stop a bullet — not even the metal-covered front door or the refrigerator (unless the bullet hits a frozen turkey). Perhaps the best cover is a shooting spot lying prone on the floor … until the perp sees you. Then all of the rules of shooting through walls and doors and floors (of a multiple-story home) apply.

If you are in fear for your life at home, think 911 and fight or flight. Just don’t take your firearms training from the movies.

About Rick Sapp

Richard “Rick” Sapp was a U.S. Army infantry platoon leader until recruited to the 66th Military Intelligence Group. There, he worked with the West German KRIPO (Criminal Police) at Czechoslovakian border stations during the Soviet invasion of 1968.

Returning to the U.S., he earned a Ph.D. in social anthropology after studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Catholic University of America and the University of Florida, following which he moved to Paris, France, for a year.

After four years with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, he turned to journalism and freelance writing, specializing in outdoor features. His journalism experience includes newspapers and magazines. He has authored more than 50 books for a variety of international publishers.

Rick is married and lives in Florida.

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