Consider if you will the multiple-opponent gunfight, and I’m using the term “gunfight” even if you’re the only one with the gun(s). In most areas of the United States, unarmed but multiple attackers are considered justification for use of deadly force in self-defense. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll be concentrating on more than one attacker initiating an attack from a range that allows you time and space to get your gun into action. (If they attack from closer than that, it’s not a “gun problem” and is beyond the purview of this topic.)

The last set of FBI violent crime statistics I remember reading put your chances of being a victim of multiple attackers at close to 50 percent if you’re attacked in any way.

So, the subject bears study. In the course of this particular visit, I would like to present at least two viewpoints that might go against what you’ve previously been told or trained to do when addressing multiple attackers and revisit — and hopefully expand — on one other point that is often presented.

Breaking the Rules of ‘The Boarding House’

You’ve heard this one, I bet: When engaging multiple attackers, apply the “Boarding House Rule” — everyone gets one serving before anyone gets a second helping. In practice, that means you want to shoot every attacker once and then go back to whoever did not change their behavior after being hit that first time.

It’s a good idea in theory, but I’m not sure how well it will work if you haven’t trained extensively in its execution.

The main reason I’m not sure is because your “monkey brain” gets a vote. This is what Mark MacYoung calls the part of your brain that takes over when personal survival is at stake. It is the source of the fight-or-flight reaction process and, without enough training to make things automatic, it can and will alter behavior. Your monkey brain will focus on what it perceives to be the nearest, most immediate or gravest threat, and it won’t let go of that threat until you have dealt with it to the monkey brain’s satisfaction.

Consider the following: a man with a knife charging you from 10 yards away, a man with a pistol 20 yards away and a man with a rifle 50 yards away. Which is the most significant threat? You won’t consciously answer that question; it will be your monkey brain, which might not discern the same priority of threat that you consciously would. That is going to change the way you deal with each of the three attackers. Without having more training and mental conditioning than the majority of us, I think it’s likely that you will first orient on and start shooting the charging would-be knifer. (I think this is the place to start in this particular scenario, in fact.)

Against more than one attacker, movement is imperative. You use movement to disrupt your attackers’ plans.

Where I think the normally recommended way of handling multiple-attacker situations starts to break is that the monkey brain will want you to make sure the knifer is neutralized before it lets you even think about handling either the handgunner or the rifleman. In the absence of prior training or experience, it is unlikely that you will be able to make yourself shoot the knifer once, the pistoleer once and then the sniper once before going back to the knifer. Your “survival mind” — that monkey brain — won’t let you. So, you will engage the knifer, you will keep engaging the knifer and you will not stop engaging the knifer until your monkey brain believes the knifer is no longer a threat to you. Only then will you be able to focus on and engage the other two.

Whether or not the precedence of threat is as easy to discern as I make it in the example — the closest man with the knife is the most dangerous to you at that instant — I believe that your survival mind is going to do the same thing. It will select what it thinks the most dangerous individual in the group is at that instant, make you focus on that one and make it difficult, if not impossible, to spread your focus to others until that one is dealt with.

So, how do you remove, or at least reduce, the chance that you will focus on what might be the wrong one in the crowd? One option is to train to deliver rapid, aimed bursts into each target. This affords you a better chance of satisfying your survival mind than does a single shot that it knows might not stop what it considers the most dangerous threat. Other than that, we’re back to our old friends mental conditioning, mental rehearsal and repetitive training — the same techniques we all employ to acquire, retain and improve any other skill or behavior we want to develop and ingrain.

And speaking of new skills…

Don’t Turn Like a Turret; Thrust Like a Sword

Most of us have been taught that, when rapidly shifting between targets, we should turn at the waist in order to bring the gun on-line to the next target. This works fine, as long as the targets are relatively close together. Beyond a few degrees of arc in separation, however, the risk increases that you will overshoot or undershoot the next target — neither of which is productive for any number of reasons.

Instead of rotating your torso with your arms out and the gun at extension, take a look at Suarez International Instructor Rick Klopp’s suggestion. He advises re-indexing — or retracting — the gun as you move your eyes to the next target and turn, only then re-presenting the gun as you do in the last part of the draw and presentation.  In other words, instead of turning with arms extended, retract and thrust like you would if you were using a sword two-handed instead of firing a handgun. This technique doesn’t take any more time than pivoting while at extension and it is far less likely to result in you stopping short of or sweeping beyond the target, especially when the separation of targets is large. This should simplify and expedite your shooting process, especially when your targets are separated by several yards or more than 30 degrees of arc.

Move! Move! Move!

This is the reminder: You should be moving even if you are only facing one attacker. (The subject of movement itself — controlled, start-stop and dynamic — is a separate study and worthy of your attention.) Against more than one attacker, movement is imperative. You use movement to disrupt your attackers’ plans, you use movement to get off the line of the initial attack(s), you use movement to gain time and distance and you use movement to place yourself in a position of advantage with respect to them. You use movement to stay alive and win the fight.

Understand that “movement” is not the simple shuffle or side-step you so often see on the firing line in normal defensive shooting classes. When you train to move, take as much space as you’ve got and make your movements explosive and evasive. If it’s start-stop (move as you draw, pause to shoot, move between shots), then each movement needs to be large-scale. Big steps, big leaps, big hops and wide lunges are what you’re after. Get off that line! And after you’re off that line, get off the one you’re on after you move.

After you’ve learned how to move and shoot and understand your limits of application, it can add a new dimension to your ability to fight and win.

If you can, try to get your attackers set with your movement so that one is blocking the others from their attack. Movement is the way you can form a conceptual choke point, a bottleneck your attackers must negotiate before they can engage you. It gives you a chance to turn a one-against-many fight into a series of more manageable one-against-one fights.

It is more than possible to move quickly while shooting accurately, and if you’ve acquired that skill set, use it. If not, there are instructors who can teach you to do so, and it is far easier (and more economical) to acquire proper form and technique from such a coach than to trial-and-error your way through it on your own. After you’ve learned how to move and shoot and understand your limits of application, it can add a new dimension to your ability to fight and win.

A Complex Problem

Dealing with more than one attacker at a time is difficult. It adds complexity to an already hard problem. The tactics suggested here could simplify that problem and reduce the complexity of its solution. Try them and see if they do that for you.