Wednesday, May 23, 2018


Our conversation had started with me asking “So who shot you in the throat?”, a basic conclusion on my part, because on one side of his throat he had a very small round scar, on the other side, a jagged dime sized scar, accompanied by a damaged voice. It had the hall marks of a twenty-two caliber wound and this had peaked my interest. He was an ex-convict and career criminal, who had spent part of that career as a car jacker in the late 1980s and 1990s. He had a rather successful run (according to him) until he went from car-jacker to attempted to car-jacker. As we sat and talked in his now paroled and work released based probation he explained the scenario that led to his down fall.

"I'm 6'2", and I had a big old revolver that took .44s. You look down that barrel and you think, 'take what you want, please don't kill me with that thing. But not this one guy. I stuck the gun in his face yelling for him to get out of the car, and as he is sliding out I hear the little 'pop' sound. I kinda saw his hand coming up, but my mind was all focused on his face and my gun in his face, and I couldn’t really see much else. So I hear this 'pop' and, next thing I know I feel like I'm gonna throw up or something. I can't talk right and I spat blood all over the place. I didn't know what happened. I'm looking around, but I see blood all over me, and I can't breathe. I'm trying to get out the passenger side of the car, but it's not my car and it was like being in a nightmare. I couldn't find the door handle, and all I know is everything is going bad. I'm thinking 'I don't want to go to jail! I don't want to die!' I get the car door open and fall out on the ground and stumble all over. I'm spitting blood. I'm scared out of my mind. I can't see anything. Turns out, he shot me with this little .22 derringer. This told me two things: 1) That dude had that planned out what he would do. He had this little nothing gun and was ready to go if he had to. 2) I had this big gun and didn't think I had to do anything other than stick in someone's face. I was wrong about that..

According to neuroscience, we don’t “feel” pain. At least not in the way we tend to think. From an elementary perspective we think of pain as being at the location of where the damage has occurred. In other words, you smack your thumb with a hammer, then the pain “happens” in your thumb. Yet, that is not what occurs. The injurys location is obviously, for our example here, to the thumb that was struck by the hammer. The pain, however, happens in your head.
All pain is based on tissue damage. That damage report is sent off to your brain by specific nerves, known as nociceptors, that are tasked with detecting tissue damage. Once the nociceptors delivers the message to the brain, the brain now has to decide what it going to do about the pain.
There is a caveat to this process.
When contact between the hammer and thumb is made, the arm jerks the finger away from the immediate area. The body’s own stop gap as it were. Naturally we would suppose that this action occurs in the brain, yet it does not. Instead the reaction comes from a muscle arc in the spinal cord. This is why your hand jerks back from touching a hot surface. If you ever wondered why your brain can react quicker to an injury as opposed to being surprised visually or from an auditory perspective, the simple truth is in the immediacy of an injury the brain is simply not involved. There is no mental processing.
In the Defensive Firearm culture we have a variety of thoughts, opinions, and, experience levels. We also tend to struggle with what I tend to refer as O&D, or Obsessives and Dismissive’s.  Take for instance the obsessions with bullet penetration, velocity, magazine capacity, etc. There is a large contingent of the shooting community that places an almost religious fervor on the alter of ballistic gel, with Youtube raising up an entire generation of charismatic ballistic bible thumpers or heretics, depending upon your personal beliefs.  The hallmark, of course for all backyard ballistic preachers is the almighty number 12. Because, according to the F.B.I. "a handgun bullet must consistently penetrate a minimum of 12 inches of tissue in order to reliably penetrate vital organs within the human target regardless of the angle of impact or intervening obstacles such as arms, clothing, glass, etc." With 18 inches being seen as a somewhat often unattainable holy grail, as it were. At least for the auto pistol shooter.
Then of course there are the Dismissives. Where velocity is party to the obsessives, momentum is to the Dismissives. Few, if any, of this modern age seem to place any value in the aspect of a heavy bullet having to suddenly come to a halt, and what this does to the intended target. Richard Mann, in his 2016 Shooting Illustrated article, Bullet Penetration and Expansion surmised it like this, "You cannot have deep penetration and wide expansion, because defensive-handgun cartridges must divide their energy between the two..." Regardless of any personal thoughts, opinions, and beliefs, his quote is precise and accurate.
My personal beliefs on the matter is the party of wide expansion over penetration (in case you wondered which way you should exercise your prejudices towards me).

Yet, in my opinion, one largely overlooked category amongst the Defensive Firearm culture is pain.
Specifically pain that is inflicted on the Bad-Guy-in-Question when shot by the armed citizen in a defensive circumstance. We talk at length about "shooting to eliminate the threat," whether that means that the wounds themselves lead to a fatal injury, or if the realization that the assault initiated by the B-G-I-Q is now lost, seems to be ethereal in discussion. Or at least prohibited as a topic in polite company. 

Though I suspect that a large reason pain is ignored from the discussion of fight stoppage largely has to do with a lack of experience on part of the average defensive shooter. Paper and people of course not being equals, with paper being utilized as a measurement tool regarding accuracy potentials without providing any inclination towards perceived slights, let alone felt pain.

We simply cannot dismiss pain nor the problems it creates for an attacker. Pain affects the mind’s ability to function in a clear and efficient manner. Pain causes fight, flight, or freeze to be re-assessed. Pain means a decision has to be either re-affirmed or abandoned. All of this, while there is the separate dilemma of what to do about the sudden difficulty in breathing, the increasing loss of motor function from one (or more) appendages, the sense of confusion, and the already present tunnel vision that is seemingly increasing. The deer, the elk, the bear, the man, they all feel pain. But the man understands the pain and the causation of it. There is also a severe effect on the human attacker's psychology of “I’ve been shot.” Compound this with the dilemma of the attacker now has to "flee" in order to avoid suffering any further damage.
We should never underestimate an attacker. Ever. A fight for your life is that. A-fight-for-your-life. 

However, it should be that. 

A fight. 

Your attacker should have no misgivings once the dance has started. His life is in just as much jeopardy as yours and, if applied with enough intent from you, his being more so.There are no damage proof super-villains in the world. The PCP laden attacker that soaks up cylinder after cylinder of 357 Magnum is the stuff myths are made of.
Unfortunately, statistics and theories have come to over-ride the discussions to the point of becoming gospel instead of what happens in the reality. Disregarding the physical and mental impact of how one or, if properly applied, multiple gunshot wounds affect the outcome of a gunfight is a mistake. There is only one guarantee in a gunfight and, that is violence of action will occur, but continual application of a proper mind set, training and practice will do much to win the day.


BC said...

Your comparison to pain in animals is a good one. Another example is a dog attacking a porcupine. Some dogs get a poke and have had enough while others take that poke as a trigger to attack more. While the 2nd dog usually ends up in bad shape, it doesn't turn out very well for the porcupine either.

Tying that back to your defensive caliber selection, pain response absolutely should be considered as a factor but not to the neglect of sufficient penetration to cause an attacker to stop from broken innards or blood loss. See also Taurus judge revolvers and why birdshot sucks.

JKIV said...

Good post sir. Thank you.

R said...

Good information that jives with my experience. A couple thoughts.

Juxtaposing this phenomenon with the just-as-real experience of those who have been shot or stabbed during a violent encounter and not felt a thing at the time is difficult. It is remarkable the amount of damage that a human can take without "feeling" it at the time. Typically the adrenaline cocktail can account for much of this, which suggests--at least to me--a few things.

1. The individual for whom pain becomes a relevant factor in the decision to disengage is not operating with the same level of physiological arousal as a "newbie" so to speak. The robber in your above-listed example had enough encounters with robbing and thieving that the rush was not quite as high. Also, he had a mental framework for the way "these things usually go." Thus, when he experienced sudden, unexpected, violent resistance, his OODA loop (an incredibly overused concept) was blown. Moreover, he did not enjoy the mask of the adrenaline cocktail due to his lower arousal state.

2. This suggests to me that pain is a factor depending on one's level of physiological arousal, the expectation of pain (e.g. I am in a fight --> I am going to get punched --> it's going to hurt --> no factor drive on) and experience with pain. Surprise and violence of action lend an exponential increase to the experience of pain, particularly in the uninitiated.

3. Pain can be ignored to a point--even if it is unexpected and overwhelming--depending on one's goal. Again, folks can soak up enormous amounts of punishment if they know they are fighting for their lives or perhaps the lives of their loved ones. The robber, on the other hand, has no 401k or medical pension and knows that he must disengage to survive.



Anonymous said...

I wonder about the effect of sudden pain on people who are used to pain as a constant.
I've been shot at, but never shot; I wanted that out of the way. I have no idea how I'd behave if shot. Creditably, I hope, as we all do, but it's a "known unknown" for me.
I also deal with constant pain. I was in a motorcycle wreck in '08, & suffered some pretty serious damage; for instance, it was a month before they decided they could save my leg. When they did put it back together, the leg wound up an inch shorter than before, so my body geometry is all wrong. I'm not saying all this to elicit sympathy; it's on me. Nobody put a weapon to my head & made me get on the bike, & I knew the risks. It's part of the game.
So, if someone is used to a constant level of pain, whether low or high, and is used to pains springing up elsewhere, how incapacitatng is the sudden pain of being shot going to be? I imagine it would be considerable, as I presume being shot is quite painful, perhaps acutely. Is the fact of the pain going to affect such people the same as most folks?
It may be irrelevant, as I reckon the "Oh, shit, I've been shot!" realization & subsequent reaction may be enough for most people.
--Tennessee Budd

Dan said...

Yes....pain comes from the brain....and is subjective.
For some a minimal non life threatening injury is abysmally
painful and they immediately cease all actions to focus on
that pain. For others pain barely exists....their adrenalin,
their focus, their obsession renders pain almost nonexistent.

And yes....the story of the "drug addled criminal" soaking up
round after round is true. They may have received mortal injuries
or even several but unless their mind says QUIT they fight on...
so you must also. In the 196 Miami FBI shootout both bank
robbers received fatal wounds early in the encounter yet CHOSE
to fight on for several minutes...with the resulting deaths of
several agents and the wounding of almost ALL the agents. So
chemistry CAN make humans nearly least for a short
time. The ONLY guaranteed stop is one to the brain stem or the
spinal cord resulting in paralysis. Even a 12 guage to the heart
turning it into hamburger gives a determined criminal 30 seconds or
more to KILL YOU before he dies.

The ONLY thing you can count on in a gunfight is NOTHING can be counted

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