Your life is threatened. Your gun is in your hands aimed at your attacker’s chest. You have a split second to pull the trigger. Nothing happens. Your gun does not go bang. You feel no recoil impulse. Your gun is a lump of metal at the end of your arms. Suddenly it’s too late.

This nightmare occurs in waking life a lot more often than you probably think. In actual fact, it is quite common, very real, and usually tragic in its consequences. In almost every case, it’s not the gun that fails to fire. It’s the shooter that fails to function.

To intentionally fire a bone-crunching chunk of lethal lead dead-center into the vital organs of another human being bears no resemblance whatsoever to punching a small hole in a piece of paper. There are plenty of people who are extremely good at executing the latter and totally incapable of performing the former. These people, I am sorry to say, should not carry guns outside the confines of a shooting range. To carry a deadly weapon and not be fully prepared to shoot and kill another person with it places you and everyone around you in jeopardy – except the very criminal from which you believe you are protecting yourself.

Much has been made of the distinguished research of John R. Lott, Jr., author of More Guns, Less Crime and The Bias Against Guns, which shows that Americans use guns defensively about 2.5 million times a year, and that 98 percent of the time merely brandishing the weapon is sufficient to stop an attack. The corollary to this, of course, is that in two percent of the incidences, about 50,000 time a year, simply drawing your gun is not enough. You have to follow through with more aggressive action. You have to fight. You very well might have to kill another human being.

In the movies, most of the time, when someone pulls a gun the action stops and the game is over. In reality, at least some of the time, when someone pulls a gun the action is just beginning. Rank beginners are sometimes heard to say, Well, I would fire a warning shot, or I would just shoot to wound the guy. These are undoubtedly the same hopeless victims who believe the best way to stop a grizzly bear attack is to call the animal’s mother a dirty name or to slap the charging beast on the nose. The only way to stop an attack is to stop the attacker, and you can be reasonably assured of a stopping shot only if you shoot with intent to kill.

No cop is ever taught to fire one shot and then look around to see what happened. Advanced firearms training always includes what we used to call the Mozambique drill. It was called this back in the days before political correctness became pandemic and those infected by it started going around talking like language-challenged social workers. Today, the most used variation of the exercise is referred to as the automatic failure drill. It calls for meeting a deadly threat by firing two shots one on top of the other, a double-tap if you will, into the center mass of the bad guy’s chest followed by a third shot into his brain. Only after these three killing shots are delivered as quickly as possible, a matter of about a second with a little practice, can you afford to pause and assess the situation. Police trainers know this is the best way to preserve the life of the officer. It is also the best way to preserve your own.

As it turns out, even most cops aren’t up to performing anything like the Mozambique drill in the real world. Overcoming the unwillingness of most human beings to kill another human being is the biggest single problem firearms trainers face, and it extends to military and law enforcement people as well as civilians.

More than 20 percent of new law enforcement applicants openly admit they could not or would not shoot a violent assailant even to save another officer’s life. Sometimes intense training can overcome this malignant streak of cowardice, sometimes it cannot. In World War II, only 15 to 20 percent of American riflemen were able to deliberately kill an enemy soldier with aimed fire. In Vietnam, American soldiers fired 55,000 rounds for every enemy soldier they killed. Military analysts estimate that 80 to 85 percent of soldiers cannot kill another human being if they are directly accountable for it.

I have talked at length with firearms instructors from every armed discipline at every level of instruction and they unanimously confirm the problem. This is not just a challenge for firearms instructors, it’s a potential threat to the continued existence of civilization itself. Somebody has got to be able to take aim between the eyes of the bad guy and pull the damn trigger. Otherwise, only the bad guys will survive.

Unfortunately, you can’t just go out and start shooting bad guys for practice. Not for long. If legal executions were carried out by firing squad instead of healthcare providers, and if each and every citizen were required to serve on a firing squad like he or she is required to serve on a jury, it would certainly help. People have no right to whine about the crime rate if they refuse the possibility of getting their hands dirty in the process of cleaning it up.

The best firearms schools come as close to synthesizing reality as they can. Students shoot targets that look like human beings, though it’s hard to convince your mind that something you can shoot all day long without killing it is alive. More often, it works the other way around. An efficient and successful assassin learns to think of the live human he’s killing as inanimate, just another target made out of meat.

Shooting is a martial art, where the body controls the environment in accordance with a paradigm created by the mind. In the case of deadly weapons and lethal capabilities, the paradigm includes the death of your adversary. If you can justify drawing your gun on someone, you can justify shooting him, and if you can justify shooting him you can justify killing him. If you can’t connect those dots all the way to the end, don’t carry a gun. You’ll just end up handing out free weapons to violent criminals.

Mindset must precede and direct the application of mechanical shooting skills. Otherwise, the skills, which are quite easily learned in and of themselves, have no focus and are therefore meaningless. It’s the mind that must be trained, the mindset that must be practiced.

Don’t practice your draw in your living room where you snatch your gun out of your holster and just leave it hanging there. Practice at the range, where every draw includes the necessary step of firing your weapon into a target you imagine is a man.

Go hunting with your handgun. Kill something. Demonstrate to yourself that flesh and blood is not the same as paper and ink.

The most telling comment on real-life practical shooting skills I’ve ever heard came out of a conversation with Jeff Cooper, the man who single-handedly revolutionized combat handgun techniques. Sitting in front of his fireplace under the trophy mount of a huge kudu he brought down with a perfect shot in South Africa, overlooking the ranges of Gunsite Academy where some of the best shooters in the country gather to hone their practical accuracy in the most realistic conditions it’s possible to simulate, Cooper said, “One of the best examples of technique I can recall is, a couple came home one night over in West Los Angeles and they were greeted on the second deck by a creep with a gun. The creep says to the man, Lay down on the floor. He was going to tie him up with tape, and so the guy lets him do it. While the creep is tying the guy’s hands the girl reaches around and pulls the pistol out of the creep’s waistband and kills him with it. Now, I don’t know how good a shot she was, but she was good enough.”

Thanks, Jeff.