Not Getting Shot

Getting shot at and shot is serious business. In this Learning MAP, Marc MacYoung gives you tactics and strategies for both not getting shot AND not getting shot at.


When Someone is Shooting

Well the first question is he shooting at YOU specifically?

Or is he shooting at someone else? (And bullets are mostly flying in one direction.)

Or is he an active shooter? (He's just shooting at everyone)

These three scenarios will have a lot to do with what is your best strategy. The first one is a lot more complicated. It is also the most common way you'll get shot at. The reason it is more complicated is it's usually personal. That person is shooting at you because of your actions that lead to the shooting. He's there to punish you and usually won't stop until one of the six results of when someone is trying to kill you * are achieved.(2)

In the last two scenarios, however, most people's primary goals need to be

a) to get off the line of fire 

b) get out of the shooter's sight 

c) get out of the area.

When the shooter is shooting at someone else or just randomly shooting people, odds are, the he's going to be too busy to follow you. But all in all, these are pretty good default strategies for your lizard brain to implement.

With all three shooting scenarios, think of whatever direction he is facing as him standing at the tip of a slice of pie. The further out it goes the bigger the slice becomes. And that includes behind the target.

What he's aiming at could be close to him or halfway down the slice ... it doesn't matter. The bullets will still be traveling down that pie slice until they hit something or run out of juice. While running away will help some, you gotta get off that pie slice ASAP.

That is why who's he shooting at is so important. If he's shooting at someone else, or everyone, there's a good chance he won't move to put you specifically back onto the pie slice.

Another consideration here is: How close are you to the shooter? Notice the three arrows in the picture. If the shooter doesn't aim correctly -- even though he is trying to shoot the target, there is a good chance of missing. In fact, two of the three arrows would miss the target in the illustration. That's why we use a pie slice to show this.

A problem with someone shooting at you isn't the size of the bullet, it's the size of the target you present within the pie slice. For example, look at the illustration above. If you go side to side, at the range/distance the target is shown from the shooter means the target is filling about 1/3 of the pie slice. (You could write 'target' three times across where it is on the pie slice).

If you move the word 'target' up close to the shooter (right in front of the three arrows), even with variation in aim, there's a good chance of getting hit. Because when it's that close, the word target covers most of the lateral area.

On the other hand, if you move the word 'target' to the top of the illustration, it would only fill about 1/6 of the possible area the bullet could go (due to bad aim). So the further away you are from the shooter -- even on the pie slice -- the less likely you are to get shot.

Incidentally, we did the math on this and discovered that at 15 feet a pistol canted just FIVE degrees will miss a human sized target. We then went out to the shooting range and confirmed this. Aim at the X and then bend your wrist just a bit so the gun barrel moves about five degrees You'll hit the paper, but you won't hit the silhouette. The greater the distance, the less the degree needs to be to entirely miss the target.

The further from the shooter, the bigger the possible area the bullet can go -- and the greater the chances of him missing. This is why -- even though it isn't an optimal strategy -- even running straight away from a shooter can save your life.

As can hunkering down as you run. Thereby making yourself a smaller target. The smaller target profile you present, by both distance and crouching,  the greater his chances are of missing. That having been said, you still want to get off the pie slice ASAP.

Video Links:

Are You Inside or Outside?

The second set of factors determining what to do: Are you inside or outside?

And then you have to ask, are you outside in a wide open area or are you in a place where there is cover and concealment?

There's a difference between these two. I address them in a "Tools for Writers: Don't get your character shot" piece I did (see below). For the record, the faster you can put a building between you and a shooter the better you'll be.

If you are inside with an active shooter, get outside NOW!!!

A whole lot of people who get killed in school shootings, workplace shootings and spree shootings die because they crouch down behind something and the shooter walks right up to them. They don't see him coming because the same thing that hides them from his sight, blocks him from theirs.

Don't hide behind doors or in closets. Head for the exit. If you have to throw a chair through a window to make an exit, DO IT! Getting into another room will give you time to open an escape route.

Video Links:


Don't Stop

The other thing to do when exiting an indoor shooting situation is DON'T STOP!

Keep going. Not only does this lessen the chances of you getting shot by the original shooter, but you being gone makes the decision of who the first responders are going to shoot much easier. And that includes keeping you from being accidentally shot by the responders.

As a side note, many schools and organizations have some short-sighted policies in this regard. People are commonly told to exit the building and wait outside. The reasoning for this policy is the concern that if you run, they won't know if you're safe or not.

Our attitude is: That's what cell phones are for.

Once you are out of there, CALL YOUR LOVED ONES and tell them you are alright. If you don't do this, then your loved ones will be calling -- or worse -- rushing to the site to see if you are safe.

People milling around a shooting scene or waiting for instructions from management, administration or teachers not only increases the difficulties for first responders, but also leaves you in danger from the shooter. If you can escape through a window, he can shoot out of one too.

So forget any policy that -- while convenient for the school/organization increases your danger. If management is concerned about your well being, then have them set up a hotline to call in case of emergencies.

Add to this that employers, teachers, ministers and most other authority figures probably don't have much experience getting shot at either. So they're just as likely to be as freaked out as you are. While getting shot because you made a bad decision sucks, getting shot because someone else made a bad decision really sucks. (We'll return to this idea in the shooting back section).

If you are outside, get inside. But more than that, don't just run into a building and then stop and watch what is going on (we call this Prairie Dogging). Enter a building and keep going out the other entrance. This not only gets you out of the pie slice, out of view of the shooter, but a building makes pretty good cover.

If you are outside in a wide open space (where there is no cover or concealment) RUN! Put as much distance between you and the shooter as possible. Remember what we said about distance from the shooter to the target? Make the distance as great as possible.

Otten you will find yourself in an outdoor situation that is a blend between open space and offering cover. In these situations your best bet is to utilize cover and concealment AND buying distance. You don't just duck and cower behind a car. You put the car between you and the shooter and run using the car to cover your escape.

As mentioned earlier, I'm a big fan of making yourself a smaller target by hunching over as you run (3). Ducking down and running between parked cars in a parking lot or behind a row of cars on the street.

But perhaps the most important thing is knowing what NOT to do.

Video Links:

What Do I Do When Someone IS Shooting At Me?

The answer to the question of 'What do I do ...?' is "It depends" By that I mean it depends on where you are, who is doing the shooting, what options you've chosen and most of all your mindset.

But before we get to what to do when the trigger is being pulled, it's important to examine what we can do to prevent the trigger being pulled

What Happens When Someone really IS trying to Kill You

I have lot of experience with different kinds of violence? Rather than try to tell you all about how much violence I've been in, I'll tell you the last time I was shot at was 16 years ago. That's a new record for me. In my entire adult life (I'm 52) I have never gone that long in between shooting incidents. I was 14 the first time I was shot at. I tended to average between two to five years between incidents. And that doesn't count people trying to stab me, run me over with cars, etc., etc..

What you may not realize about this is I developed a distaste for people who get slapped around and then turn around claim the person was trying to kill them. Been there, done that ... NOT the same. Not even in the same ballpark. But man will they tell you all about their trauma drama from the experience and how dangerous it was.

To combat this hyperbole, I came up with a list of the six most common results when someone IS trying to kill you. They are:

1) You die 

2) You spend a long time in the hospital 

3) Someone runs away (usually you) 

4) You shoot back (often prompting the other person to retreat) 

5) You retaliate with such ferocity that the other person is injured, killed or runs away 

6) Someone else intervenes resulting in some combination of 1-5. 

If those weren't the results, then the person WASN'T trying to kill you -- no matter WHAT you want to believe or tell others.

Police look on after shooting gunman Jeffrey Johnson near the Empire State Building in New York

If he physically assaulted you, was he meaning to inflict pain? Probably. Did he mean to cause you physical injury? Probably not. Did he mean to kill you? Odds are seriously against it.

That is because violence is usually mixed with other motivations. We strongly suggest that you follow that last link. It goes to a section explaining how violence is a multifaceted tool. A tool often used in the context of social order, behavior enforcement, territorial and resource control. Violence used to achieve these ends is not only common, but it is overwhelmingly self-limiting. That means once the immediate goal is achieved, the physical violence stops -- for that incident.

People intending to kill you usually don't stop until a) they've succeeded, b) they believe they have succeeded or c) the danger to them becomes too great to continue.

That is why you must look at what happens before it becomes physical -- even with weapons. Because what is going on before the weapon is drawn and what occurs while the weapon is displayed is critical for assessing what is the best course of action for you.

Is he REALLY trying to kill you?

If he physically assaulted you, was he meaning to inflict pain? Probably. Did he mean to cause you physical injury? Probably not. Did he mean to kill you? Odds are seriously against it.

That is because violence is usually mixed with other motivations. We strongly suggest that you follow that last link. It goes to a section explaining how violence is a multifaceted tool. A tool often used in the context of social order, behavior enforcement, territorial and resource control. Violence used to achieve these ends is not only common, but it is overwhelmingly self-limiting. That means once the immediate goal is achieved, the physical violence stops -- for that incident.

People intending to kill you usually don't stop until a) they've succeeded, b) they believe they have succeeded or c) the danger to them becomes too great to continue.

That is why you must look at what happens before it becomes physical -- even with weapons. Because what is going on before the weapon is drawn and what occurs while the weapon is displayed is critical for assessing what is the best course of action for you.

A threat display or the different kinds of violence are NOT someone TRYING to kill you.

Can they escalate into physical violence? Yes.

Can it go from a simple assault to an aggravated assault? Absolutely.

Can they result in death? Yes (Especially if you try to counter a weapon-based threat display with one of your own).

However -- we must stress again -- most violence is NOT about killing. It is about achieving a goal.

And this includes someone displaying or brandishing of a weapon. The reason to brandish is so that person doesn't have to use it.  Although 'brandishing' is illegal in most states, the intent is usually to show how serious someone is about their demands.

I often say that 'I am negotiating until I pull the trigger.' The importance of this concept cannot be stressed enough. VERY SELDOM does someone 'just pull a gun and shoot.' Communication is the norm. While it is possible that the shooter is working his way up to shooting by talking, it is far more common that he is communicating in an attempt so he doesn't 'have' to shoot.

But, people caught up in their emotions about being in conflict don't look at it this way. In fact, because their monkey brains are driving the bus, they overlook the fact that MOST violence comes with instructions on how to AVOID it!

If the guy is waving a gun at you telling you leave or shut up ... TAKE HIS ADVICE!!!!

If he's got a gun in your face saying give him your wallet ... DO SO!

The Monkey Brain

While this may sound obvious, the problem is that in conflict, when people are functioning in their monkey brains they are NOT making rational decisions.

The monkey brain is more concerned about emotions, feelings, pride, status and, most of all, winning than anything else. As such, when someone is threatening you with a weapon, the monkey brain is famous for saying things like "You don't have the guts."

I really wish I was joking about that.  Or the New York Actress whose last words to the mugger were "What are you going to do? Shoot us?" That was her mouth writing checks...

Or to be more accurate, that was her monkey brain trying show that person with a gun that she was really important and not afraid of him or his little gun

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the monkey brain is great at getting you into danger, but it sucks at getting you out of it.

By danger we mean physical danger, not conflict. It's usually your monkey brain that gets you into conflict, drives the conflict -- and this is the weird part -- both tells you you are in danger and at the same time ignores the actual danger.

On one level (social and self-esteem) the Monkey will convince you this isArmageddon. At the same time it will keep you yelling and screaming at someone ... when you should be either running, preparing to fight for your life or changing your behaviors.

And that's all BEFORE you get to point where the trigger being pulled. Functionally, you have floated from where the perceived 'dangers' are to emotions, status and your pride to a point where there is physical danger.

The problem is the Monkey is more concerned with its fears to these other issues. It's as though it's saying: Sure there's some physical danger, but that's not nearly as important as showing this other monkey I'm right. In fact, it is not uncommon for the Monkey to view a brandished weapon as a bluff. A bluff that the Monkey feels it must call if it is to 'win.'

Your behavior at this stage has MAJOR INFLUENCE on whether or not bullets come out of that gun. We cannot stress enough that the smart course of action is do to everything in your power to keep the bullets in the gun -- even if that means swallowing pride.

So, are we to the 'what do you do when someone is shooting' part?

Video Links:


Change Bus Drivers

Yes and no.

We're at the point where the first trigger pull is two seconds or less away -- or there is a bullet in the air already. At this junction, the first thing you need to do is kick the Monkey out of the driver's seat.

Not only did it get you into this mess because of its desire to 'win,' but when someone attacks you, the Monkey tends to freeze and go 'homina, homina, homina!" It not only doesn't know what to do, but it's going to keep you from doing anything too. It's great plan to have this other monkey groveling in abject submission and remorse for daring to challenge it (or hurt your feelings) has just failed miserably. When you are physically assaulted after your Monkey's plan has failed, odds are against you swinging into serious kung fu action. Most people either keep on trying to engage in monkey brain behaviors (screaming and threatening) OR they are overwhelmed by the assault.

Except when the attack involves a weapon, they bleed, often die.

It's time for the lizard brain to take over. (Besides, odds are the monkey brain got you into this mess in the first place.) Unlike the monkey brain, the lizard brain is not concerned with your pride, status or emotions ... it's goal issurvival. That is what it's geared towards.

And when the fecal matter is hitting the oscillating blades, that's who you want driving the bus.

Two good ways to understand the different level of functioning were supplied, first by Ferran Bassols who said: The monkey brain says "I'm more important than this guy. While the lizard brain says "DUCK!" Josh Amos who said: This guy might try to shoot me vs. HOLY S**T! HE'S SHOOTING AT ME!

In both examples, the danger has shifted from a possibility to a reality. There is a very big difference

The problem is that modern life does not afford most the ability to drop into this part of their consciousness.

It might help if you imagine bridges between the parts of your brains. So-called 'civilized people' tend to have not just big bridges to get from their human brain (rational/neo-cortex) to their monkey brain (emotional/primate/limbic system), but lots of bridges. Think river or freeway crossings in the city. That means they can easily slip into their monkey brain (1).

However, the 'bridge' to their lizard brain is one of those rope and slat bridges you see in jungle action movies. Or, if you're more urban in your thinking, the lizard brain is considered a bad part of town and most people have only one bridge to it. They don't spend much time there or know how to get there.

The challenge you face is getting across that bridge and into the lizard brain BEFORE you get shot.

Once you drop into your lizard brain, you are no longer concerned with monkey brain issues. Those are now officially, out the window. There are nomore instructions about what to do to avoid violence, there is no more threat of violence; the bullets are flying.

BTW, there is some argument that freezing is the result of a person being incapable of allowing their lizard brain access to the steering wheel. Rory Miller and I have a discussion on the possible causes of freezing and how to overcome it.

When there are bullets in the air, you need to be acting, not worrying about how you feel.

Video Links:


Do NOT Prarie Dog

When someone is shooting do not stand there like a prairie dog and look to see what is happening. The sound of repeating gunfire tells you everything you need to know. Not only does this make you a stationary target, but by standing, you put yourself on the same eye level as the shooter. That means HE is more likely to see YOU!

In NO case do I recommend just ducking down behind either cover or concealment and trying to hide. As so many kids in Columbine, Virginia Tech and other spree shootings have discovered, the shooter can just walk up to you then shoot you. No matter how much you beg and plead.

The answer is almost always: Get out! Get out! Get out! (4)

Going back to when it is personal. Another set of consideration is: Is this person just pissed at you or is he really trying to kill you?  Basically this boils down to what is he willing to risk to see you dead?

The reason is that the pissed off person might fire a round or two at you before turning and running off or stopping shooting. But that is usually because he's achieved his goal of changing your behavior or venting his displeasure. Often if the guy wants you dead, but not at any expense to himself, if his first attempt to get you fail, he won't chase you and he will limit the number of shots he takes.

For example, he's willing to shoot you with no witnesses around. BUT while he wants you dead, he doesn't want to be seen chasing you down the street. The reason being because of the danger to him. Witnesses mean prison.

Another version is that while he's willing to kill you, he doesn't want you dead bad enough that he is going to risk you retaliating or someone else doing so. His game plan is you dead, him alive and unhurt.

You will see this behavior quite often in drive by shootings. Where as long as they are the only ones shooting they will fire, but when return fire occurs they skeedaddle away. This incidentally was what happened during my last firefight. When I started shooting back, he decided he didn't want to play anymore.

On the other hand, if the guy is committed to killing you, then odds are he will continue to try to get you back onto that pie slice and close enough that he can pump multiple rounds into you. This is where those six results of someone really trying to kill you will manifest.

Video Links:


So You Got Shot

There's a maxim among LEO/firearms instructors about the difference between police and criminals getting shot. "When an officer is shot he is usually found on the ground curled up around his wound. When a criminal is shot, they usually find him three blocks away trying to climb a fence."

Whether this is an apocryphal ' lie to children' or is based on reported incidents it, introduces you to an important concept. MOST of what happens when you are shot is based on what you expect to happen when you are shot.

If -- after watching countless movies and TV shows where someone gets shot and falls down helpless -- you believe that is what happens, that is what you'll do. If, on the other hand, you believe you can keep going after you've been shot (or don't know that you've been shot) then you can keep on going.

The cops/bad guy example is not saying that criminals are some kind of supermen.  It's just that escape plans tend to blot out other considerations. He still functions because he feels the need to function beyond having been shot.

Simply stated, many people who don't know they have been shot describe it feeling like they have been punched.  It isn't until they realize they have been shot that they begin to lose functionality.

This is a critical component for your survival if you are shot.

First off, speaking to an ER doctor, he confirmed the common numbers given about gunshot survival rates. If you get to an ER room with a single gunshot wound, you have about an 80% chance of survival. And that is within TWO HOURS!

Yes, you read that right. Two hours.  While it's not a 'you're shot so what?' issue, it doesn't mean you automatically fall down and die. The sooner you get medical treatment the better your chances. To do that you need to keep moving. If you trip, get up and keep moving.

This is critical because if you fall down and curl up your chances of dying go up, WAY UP! That's because your chances of dying are drastically reduced with every extra bullet you take.

This is why getting out of there IS your best strategy. You can still run with one bullet in you. But if you don't run and are shot multiple times at point blank range, your odds are not that good.

So let's review, I'm a big advocate of getting off the pie slice ASAP and putting something in between you and the shooter as you're doing it. Running works, having a car between you and a shooter AS you're running works better. Ducking off the street and into a building works. Running through the building and out the other door works better. Inside a building and someone starts shooting, get out.

Video Links:


Shooting Back

Now we get to the John Wayne part of the page right?


Before we even start talking about this subject we recommend you get over to the legal section and especially the lethal force page. While we're at it, you might want to save up your pennies and attend Massad Ayoob's Judicious Use of Lethal Force seminar or at least by the DVD.

Because unlike what so many in the martial arts, reality based self-defense, knife fighting and Mixed Martial Arts will tell you about 'self-defense' -- when it comes to shooting there WILL BE consequences.

In short, when you pull that trigger, the bullet will go somewhere. If it goes into the person you were aiming at, then you better be able to explain to the authorities why it WAS self-defense and not you trying to kill him. If it goes into someone else, well that's another can of worms altogether. If it destroys someone else's property, be ready to pay for that.

But in ALL cases: You need to plan for the consequences before you pull that trigger. And the two biggest things you need to plan for are

a) making sure you're justified in pulling the trigger 

b) make sure your bullet goes where you want it to

Is the person you are about to shoot actually putting you or someone else in immediate danger of death or grievous bodily injury? Or is your monkey brain telling you it is so because it says it is so?

Or has he stopped shooting and is attempting to flee the scene? State laws vary about this. But generally shooting at someone who has stopped shooting and is fleeing isn't looked favorably upon.

There are three reasons for this.

First is the immediate threat has stopped. But now you are starting up it up again.

Two is the likelihood that he will return fire. If he returns fire, you now have bullets flying both ways.

Three is the same physics that apply to his hitting what he's aiming at applies what you are aiming at. Anyone in your slice of pie is in danger.

Another big issue is your loved ones.

This is especially important because so many people carry firearms, train in self-defense, etc., with the excuse they are doing it 'to protect their loved ones.'

My first big problem with this was beautifully articulated by Don Roley when he asked, "If you're so concerned with your family's safety, why don't you have a first aid kit in your car or CPR training?"


There's a long list of things that you can add onto that list, creating a safe room in your home, not driving like a maniac, teaching your family crime avoidance and personal safety measures (like being polite). There a whole list of things that will do wonders for their safety -- and don't require you to put a bullet into anyone.

Now speaking as someone who was a professional bodyguard, let me point out that the absolute FIRST priority of protecting a client is get the person you are protecting OUT of danger!

We're not talking you standing there heroically blazing away. I'm talking about getting them into the first available door, through the building and outthe other side. And they're going to have no problem remembering what to do because you are going to be right behind them herding them along.

You don't engage unless you are followed. And in that case you are laying down a suppressing rearguard actions.

Oh yeah, remember those six options about what will happen when someone is trying to kill you? You'd be amazed at how fast someone will decide not to chase you if you're shooting back as you retreat.

But now comes the inevitable "But what if they can't run?"

Well, do yourself a favor and don't get them killed.

Here's the problem if someone is just randomly shooting people, the absolute BEST way to get him shooting at you specifically is to shoot at him. Shooters tend to take that personally. They will stop shooting at everyone and start shooting at you specifically.

And if the guy IS specifically shooting at you, that puts your loved ones in that pie slice.

Even if they are behind cover, you've given the shooter cause to come that way. Remember what I said about cover and concealment only being good from one perspective? If you go down, there's nothing to keep him from walking up on them.

If you feel that you absolutely HAVE to shoot back, the first thing you need to do is get your family heading out of there (preferably under cover or concealment). THEN move to a different position to return fire.

Move the pie slice away from them.

This increases their chances of survival because it draws fire away from them. Also the original shooter perceives resistance (and danger) to be coming from you -- not them.

If the person is shooting at you specifically and you are alone ... well that is what combat shooting courses are for. You aren't going to be able to just pick up a gun and start shooting.

Video Links:



1) It's arguable that some people spend most of their time 'over the river' in monkey brain mode. They live lives based on their emotions and feelings and that guides their decision making paradigms and by extension, their behaviors.

2) Just for the record, the strategy that has the highest survival rate is running like hell. Your monkey pride kept you in the situation way too long, your lizard knows that running fiercely is a good strategy. It's hard to get killed if you aren't there anymore.

3) There is some debate about the psychology of a rampage shooter. Will he shoot at all targets or is he more likely to shoot people who are upright? There is not enough data to conclusively say one way or the other, but smaller, hunched over targets are harder to hit.

4) The only possible exception is when two armed groups decide to kill each other in a public place. In that case they are usually more interested in shooting each other. So as long as you stay down -- and don't attract attention --  there's a chance you won't get shot.

However, this is not always guaranteed, two exceptions exist. First, I personally knew a store owner who died when two rival gangs opened up on each other in the streets of Inglewood California. One of the combatants ran into the store to reload, when the owner said "You can't come in here" the gangmember shot him. I was at work two doors down from the store when it happened.  He intervened and got shot.

The second exception is if a one of the combatants comes into your area. This is not uncommon when you have taken cover and a combatant ducks behind the same cover to reload. This can draw fire to your position or cause another combatant to run around to get a clear shot.

Tools For Writers: Don't Get Your Character Shot 

One of my businesses is that I help writers/movie makers/actors portray violence in a more realistic manner. This includes writing better action scenes. Below is a post I did that explains to people not familiar with firearms (writers) important information about guns, bullets and not getting shot. The same information that would result in their character getting shot in real life can save yours too.

Your hero or heroine comes through a doorway and quickly ducks behind the wall as a hail of bullets blast out of the room. Well except for one thing, a smart bad guy will just empty the magazine/clip into the wall your protagonist ducked behind. The bullets will pass through the wall and into your character ... thereby making your story (and series) a whole lot shorter.

That's because there's a difference between 'cover' and 'concealment.'

Concealment means someone standing in a certain spot where the shooter can't see your character. Bullets can still pass through the concealing object and into the hidden person. This is why someone hiding from gunfire behind an overturned table or an inside house door isn't realistic.

Oh yeah, one more thing about concealment, it only works from one point. Your character may be hidden from one perspective, but someone looking from another direction can see your hero or heroine plain as day. And if that person is playing for the other team, your character has problems. In film this is called camera angle. If the audience can see the person, a savvy bad guy can run around to the same place and shoot your character.

Cover, however, means that bullets can't get through what your character is crouching behind. Brick walls, solid metal doors, engine blocks, these can stop bullets.

And now to really muck things up, cover is relative.

Different 'calibers' of bullets and different bullet types do -- and do not -- go through different things. Against a .22 or a .38 (from a pistol) ducking behind a car is going to work as cover. Even if the bullets somehow do manage to penetrate the first car door or trunk, odds are they will have lost the kinetic energy to travel across the interior and still penetrate the second layer of metal.

Against a .223 (M-16) or a .60 caliber, you'd better put your character crouching down behind the engine compartment (the engine block will stop it). Because those rounds WILL pass through the body of a car -- especially if the shooter is using 'hardball' ammunition. If someone is shooting a .50 caliber ... well an entire city block cannot not provide enough cover.

What you may not realize is walls are usually concealment, not cover. Where mistakes really happen in action scenes is indoors.

Many moons past, I was sitting at friends' house, and ... well, there's no delicate way to put this ... we were in the living room getting stoned. (I was in high school, okay?) We'd been talking about guns. One of the brothers (Dave) got up and went into their mom's room. As Dan and I sat there talking, there was a loud boom from the next room and a 'thwack' from across the living room. In between Dan and I was white dust and little chunks floating in the air. In the wall, also between us, was a hole. The kind of hole an exiting bullet makes through drywall to be specific.

Dan and I sat there in stunned and stoned silence for a second before he blurted, "DAVE!" We jumped up and ran around the corner. Only to come to a screeching halt when we found Dave standing there in stunned immobility, smoking gun still in his hand and staring stupidly at the hole in the wall. Dan's stoned and drawn out "F************k man" broke the tableau. We started giggling like nervous idiots (which wasn't far from the truth).

It turns out that a bullet from a .357 magnum (their mom's gun that Dave was getting to show off) will not only pass through the bedroom/living room wall, travel across the living room, enter and exit a drywall/stucco wall, travel across a walkway, but it can also penetrate and exit the stucco/drywall of the duplex unit across the walk.

We know this because when two stoned high schoolers pick up a third, that third kid can look through the hole and into the neighbor's front room. Whether or not it lodged itself in the fourth wall or penetrated that one, too, we didn't hang around to find out.

See why your character flattening him or herself against the wall the next to the door isn't going to work? While we're at it, see why ducking behind a couch or a table isn't such a hot idea either?

Now all kinds of other things complicate this. First is although most people think a 'bullet' is one whole thing. It's not. The bullet is the part that comes out of the barrel. There are different parts to ammunition. Those parts play a very important part in penetration.

Second, there are all kinds of different calibers of guns. In layman's terms, caliber refers to the size of the gun barrel and bullet that comes out of the barrel.

Third -- and to further muck things up -- the same size bullet can come stuck in different cases (shells/cartridges). That's the part that holds the gunpowder. How much powder is behind the bullet is determined by the cartridge case size. You can have really small bullets stuffed into big cartridges. This is why rifles have more 'power' than hand guns, they can use bigger cartridges even though the caliber is the same.

The size difference between a .22 and a .223 isn't that much bullet-wise, but the extra gun powder in the larger .223 cartridge makes a BIG difference between what works for cover -- and what doesn't. Also, if your hero or bad guy knows some tricks about 'loading' his own ammo you can get extra 'hot' ammo.

Forth is there is the bullet itself. Hardball is the slang term for a full metal jacket (FMJ) bullet. Now an interesting bit of trivia is that FMJ bullets are military bullets agreed upon at the Hague Convention (not the Geneva Convention). Hardball bullets are actually less effective at killing people and cause fewer traumatic wounds than 'designer' ammo. (Things like hollow points.)

If you hear some idiot...excuse me, pundit on the TV say something like "Hollow points are meant for killing" numbnuts is too full of himself. Yes, there is a lot of ammo out there that is designed to deliver as much force into the target as possible. They do so by deforming/flattening/shattering when they hit mass. (We'll look at this closer in a bit). Yes there is the whole 'stopping power' rig-a-marole, but there is a whole 'nother safety issue involved.

The FMJ bullet does not deform upon entrance and therefore does not expend all of its energy inside whatever it hits.

In case you missed the significance of that, a FMJ bullet will travel through things like bodies, walls and car doors and keep on going.

The technical term for this is 'over penetration.' Hardball and big cartridges (rifles) make a whole lot of things concealment, not cover.

Another point is this kind of ammo is cheaper.

That means a semi-auto assault rifle in the hands of a gang banger is likely to be loaded with FMJ. And gansta's are NOT known to be terribly accurate shots.

So anybody who is behind or even in the general vicinity of the target, and NOT under cover, is in some deep kim chee. It doesn't matter if the target is on the front lawn and the bystander is in a house. Unless that house is made of concrete or brick, that's concealment, not cover. In a small house, you can still get shot if you're in the back of the house. (Incidentally 'mom's gun' was loaded with hardball. That's why it went through all those walls.)

The flip side of this is 'hollow point,' 'soft tip' or other designer ammo. As mentioned, these kinds of bullets are designed to malform or break apart when hitting something. What they are designed to do is deliver all the energy of the bullet into your target's body and create as much shock and damage as possible.  These kinds of ammo are considered to have better 'stopping power' against a humans. (You need fewer bullets to make him fall down and go thud.) But far more importantly, they severely lessen the chances of over penetration.

Here's where you get into 'on this hand 'A,' but on the other hand 'B'' issues.

In terms of your hero not wanting to hurt anyone else, the lack of penetration of these kinds of bullets is a good thing. You can have your character shoot someone using designer ammo, and it will not pass through the bad guy to zap someone behind him. No problem

But at the same time, these kinds of bullets can often turn concealment into cover. This can be a bad thing when the bad guys ducks behind ... say ... a solid core door. A FMJ slug might get through, but a Glazer Safety Slug won't.

You can use this information to your character's detriment or benefit. Let's say a hitman is after your character. He's carrying this kind of ammo to ensure maximum efficiency. Your character barely dodges the first attack. If the bad guy is using designer ammo, even a couple of car windows can save your hero's tuchas until he or she gets to real cover.

Other contributing factors are angle and deflection. Remember I said that someone hiding behind the wall next to the door can still be shot? Well, those same walls can work 'around a corner' -- at least in an older house.

In U.S. building codes, studs (in older homes 2x4s) are generally 16 inches apart. Shoot into the wall from perpendicular (or near perpendicular) angle, odds are the bullet is going to miss the stud and pass through the drywall. Like the bullet did at my friends.

BUT, if you are trying to shoot through the wall at an acute angle (especially less than 45 degrees) then chances are the bullet will hit multiple studs. This is why a hiding behind a corner in a hallway can be cover against a hand gun. Hey, even ducking around a corner works too.

Another area where angles and deflection are important is with surfaces, such as car windows. Remember that caliber and cartridge thingie? It applies here, too. Someone standing on the ground shooting at a car window with a hand gun or a low-power rifle has a very high likelihood of having his bullet deflect upward as it hits the windshield -- even if it penetrates. And believe it or not, against certain angled windshields, a bullet can bounce off glass entirely.

On the other hand, a high-caliber, high-speed, full metal jacket bullet won't have any trouble going through a windshield. So you might want to reconsider having that sniper try to take out your hero while in a car. The sniper would win.

Okay so how do you have your character move through a building without getting shot? This is especially important if the bad guy knows what he's doing.

Well, sticking with my motto of "if I wouldn't stake my life on it, I don't carry it," I'd like to point you to a DVD set that I HAVE staked my life on. Yep. I speak from personal experience when I say this DVD has done wonders from keeping me from getting shot while looking for bad guys. Chris Caracci's CQB Clearing Tactics/Patrol Tactics for the 911 Officer is a double feature on one DVD. It covers both shotgun and pistol tactics for safely clearing, securing a building and how to hole up against home invasion. The first one CQB (close quarter battle) covers moving through a house alone and with a shotgun. The 911 tactics DVD is for police and deals with pistols and teamwork. It works for office buildings and apartment complexes. Both scenarios can easily be translated into space ships and castles (blasters or crossbows, what's the difference?) Now your characters can be as competent as you want them to be while being heroic.

Remember, I wrote that piece for authors. But the information applies for people who are in areas with strong terrorist activities, gang wars and systemic ethnic violence. Large sections of the information I am giving to you not only have I used to stay alive, but I have given to friends who live in places where finding themselves in the middle of a fire storm with AK-47s is a real possibility.

And to date, they're all still alive.

Marc MacYoung

Growing up on the gang-infested streets of Los Angeles not only gave Marc MacYoung his street name “Animal,” but also extensive firsthand experience about what does and does not work for self-defense. What he teaches is based on experience and has proven reliability for surviving violence. If it didn’t work, he wouldn’t be alive to talk about it.

He is considered by many to be one of the most analytical thinkers on the subject of  surviving violence and personal safety today.  He has taught police, military, martial artists and civilians around the world. His message is always the same: Hand-to-hand combat is a last ditch effort when other, more effective, preventive measures have failed.