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Know your target!!!! Target identification and threat assessment is a rule.

Eric Loden

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Know your target!!!! Target identification and threat assessment is a rule!

We state the Universal Firearms Safety rules as general guidelines to follow but there are deeper levels of understanding as to the application of these rules that extend beyond the classroom, and moving off of the range onto the streets. Let us review them below and discuss Rule 4 in greater detail so that we can apply it to our training, and then carry it with us in our daily lives.

Rule 1: Treat all weapons with respect and handle as if loaded at all times.

Rule 2: Keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction.

Rule 3: Keep your finger out of the trigger guard until ready to shoot.

Rule 4: Identify your target and have a safe foreground and background before you shoot.

The previous institute I used to work at stated Rule 4 as "Know your target and what is in line with it." and that is great because we went on to further explain what that meant starting with knowing your target.

Knowing your target may be in the literal sense of the word (actually knowing your target by name, which is undoubtedly one of the hardest shots you might ever have to take) but in the non-literal sense what does knowing your target mean for the purpose of a defensive shooting?


We like to use these terms; Target identification, and Threat assessment. Now let's define and discuss them.

Target identification should be simple enough to understand, but there are some often overlooked caveats to really understanding this term. 

In our Concealed Weapons Course we discuss the Nevada Law that pertains to justifiable homicide in self defense and the ability to stand ones ground and defend it. (Sometimes knows as the "Castle Doctrine", or the "Stand your ground" law.)

This law protects the "good guy" wherever they are, being that they had "a right to be in that location". (This doesn't protect you if you are in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing)

• NRS 200.120: (Statute revised 6/2/2015 SB 175)

“Justifiable homicide” defined; no duty to retreat under certain circumstances.

      1.  Justifiable homicide is the killing of a human being in necessary self-defense, or in defense of an occupied habitation, an occupied motor vehicle or a person, against one who manifestly intends or endeavors to commit a crime of violence, or against any person or persons who manifestly intend and endeavor, in a violent, riotous, tumultuous or surreptitious manner, to enter the occupied habitation or occupied motor vehicle, of another for the purpose of assaulting or offering personal violence to any person dwelling or being therein.

      2.  A person is not required to retreat before using deadly force as provided in subsection 1 if the person:

      (a) Is not the original aggressor;

      (b) Has a right to be present at the location where deadly force is used; and

      (c) Is not actively engaged in conduct in furtherance of criminal activity at the time deadly force is used.

      3.  As used in this section:

      (a) “Crime of violence” means any felony for which there is a substantial risk that force or violence may be used against the person or property of another in the commission of the felony.

      (b) “Motor vehicle” means every vehicle which is self-propelled.

So with this understanding of the law we ask this question?

It is 2:00 AM and you are shook out of bed by the sound of your front door being kicked in and shattering glass. You retrieve your weapon from the nightstand and as you walk out to investigate the noise you encounter as shadowy figure in your hallway approaching you.... can you shoot them?



We see a lot of heads nodding in the affirmative... and even a few who voice their opinions with a resounding YES!!!!

Then the story continues.... you collect yourself enough to flip on the light switch only to discover that you have shot your friend and neighbor who lives across the street... he kicked in the door, drunk and angry thinking his wife had locked him out, and your house looks just like his......any thought how could this tragedy been avoided?

This scenario plays out far too often all across the country....


This is where Target identification and Threat assessment comes into play.

Target identification:

How can you clearly identify the individual that might be a target?

Well we mentioned turning on the lights, however many people will argue that you lose the tactical advantage of the dark, and knowing your house layout better than the potential attacker. (This is not a hunting expedition... you don't want to find a target. Wouldn't it be better that the lights coming on simply startles the intruder and causes them to run from the home as the element of surprise, or stealth is now gone?)

If you don't want to flip on the lights and blind yourself as well as the potential threat, how about the use of a flashlight? Are you trained to know how to handle a flashlight and firearm in conjunction? Are you trained in the appropriate use of the flashlight in tactical situations (you can only see what is in the beam.... however someone to the side can see where it is coming from.) Lights act like a double edged sword and can be both a powerful tool, or a serious danger. The same goes for Lasers, which do nothing for target illumination or identification... but they certainly look cool in the dark don't they?

How about the use of a verbal command? Simply stating a warning to the would be attacker.. something along the lines of "I have a gun and I have called the Police get out of my house!"

You can be in a position of safety, and if the attacker doesn't retreat out of the home in a hurry and they advance that helps to identify their intent.

Intent is a key word that needs to be understood and this brings us to threat assessment.

Threat assessment:

Threat assessment is determining that the individual you have identified is actually a threat, meaning that they have the ability, opportunity, and intent to do you great bodily harm, serious injury, or kill you. The Nevada Revised Statues state is as follows. 

NRS 200.200: Killing In Self Defense
oIf a person kills another in self-defense, it must appear that:
§The danger was so urgent and pressing that, in order to save the person’s own life, or to prevent the person from receiving great bodily harm, the killing of the other was absolutely necessary; and
§The person killed was the assailant, or that the slayer had really, and in good faith, endeavored to decline any further struggle before the mortal blow was given.

So to put this in laypersons terms... You have to be in danger or in *fear for your life and you should make some attempt to disengage the adversary from the fight before it becomes deadly. A warning to stop or better yet leave rapidly should be made if possible.

*NRS 200.130: Bare Fear versus Reasonable Fear

A bare fear of any of the offenses mentioned in NRS 200.120, to prevent which the homicide is alleged to have been committed, shall not be sufficient to justify the killing. It must appear that the circumstances were sufficient to excite the fears of a reasonable person and that the party killing really acted under the influence of those fears and not in a spirit of revenge.

If you have identified the individual, and determined that they are a threat and the absolute need to inflict the mortal blow exists (take the shot if you are armed) then we still have to ask ourselves about the foreground and background. In your home, what is down at the end of that hallway? Is it the children's room? A wall leading to your other neighbors bedroom? What happens if (or when) I miss, and where will those stray rounds end up? Can I move, change my angle of attack or the angle that the shot is fired to avoid the possibility of anyone else being hurt?

It is a lot to think about at 2am with sleep still in your eyes, and your brain desperately trying to decide if this is real or you are having a bad dream.

Don't rely upon the simple answers.... the clear cut scenarios that are black and white (clearly a good guy vs. a bad guy) because there are many shades of grey in the threat spectrum and the line between them is even harder to draw under the cover of night.

Challenge yourself to all the possibilities, imagine the worst case scenarios, play them out with your family, friends, and neighbors (no real weapons are necessary in the world of make believe) seek instruction on the things you are not familiar with, and share what you learn with others.

As always... Stay safe. Train hard. ADAPT

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