If there is one thing I firmly believe everyone who carries a gun needs to study in training and, if possible, master, it is … wait for it … deadly force decision-making.

Did you think I was going to talk about sight picture, grip, stance or trigger control? Those are marksmanship skills. Did you think I was going to talk about drawing from concealment and moving to cover? Those are tactics.

The single most important element is determining whether you can do anything to avoid being in that particular gunfight at that particular moment. Do you? Seriously, don’t say yes. None of us WANTS to be in a gunfight. Gunfights, for lack of a better term, suck.

Think Before the Time Comes

Recently we talked about what would make you jump into the shark tank. That’s what a gunfight is: a great big opportunity for everything to go wrong and for you to end up dead. After I presented the shark tank analogy, several readers responded with “Yeah, but…” statements. That’s good. I want you to be thinking about this stuff before bullets are flying. It is worth repeating: You will never learn new gunfighting skills during the gunfight. It is also worth repeating that, no matter what, you are better off avoiding the fight if there is any possible way to do that.

One of the “Yeah, but …” statements started off with the question, “How will I know when it is time? I’m prone to overreact and I don’t want to be like Barney Fife pulling my gun on every rabbit in a bush.”

In a word: Training. In two words: Get some. In three words: Scenario-based training.

No Such Thing As Too Much Training

Of course I want you to study up. I want you to read all that you can about tactics in a gunfight. Erik Lawrence wrote a great book called Tactical Pistol Shooting. It’s available on Amazon.com. Grab a copy and learn the basics. You can visit his website here.

Always be thinking about where you might seek cover if things get insane. Remember, when you walk into a room or an alley or anywhere else, look for the exits. This is not gun-owner paranoia. What if there is a fire? How will you get out? Remember to never hide somewhere from which you can’t escape unless it is a last resort. I still want you to get out of Dodge if you can.

You need to know the laws of your state inside and out. Then you need to realize those laws are subject to interpretation by a judge following legal arguments made by attorneys. Typically, a legal precedent is pretty powerful, but precedent can be overturned and you should not be betting your life and your life savings on the hope that things go your way.

The Last Resort

So, getting back to how you might know when it is time to use deadly force: There is the Old English concept of being backed to the wall. If you can no longer safely retreat and you feel your life is in danger, certainly it is time to use deadly force.

But don’t get me wrong; I will never ask that you turn your back on a loaded gun, or even a bad guy brandishing a knife. What if you can’t outrun him? You certainly can’t outrun a bullet.

The short answer is to look around (situational awareness) and seek escape routes. If you see none and you believe you are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, then you can employ deadly force.