Saturday, January 14, 2023

Covering Fire For Self-Defense

Laying down suppressive fire with minigun
    Having read a couple of articles recently that characterized a concealed carry handgun as a "get out of trouble" handgun rather than a combat handgun, it made me wonder about using suppressive or covering fire in self-defense. After all, if you are trying to force an assailant to seek cover while you escape, that certainly seems to fit the category of "getting out of trouble." 

    Not surprisingly, it does not appear that much has been written on the topic. I suspected that this would be the case because, as we are often told, we are legally responsible for every bullet we fire and to never shoot anything we don't intend to destroy. Given that, I have a hard time seeing a firearms instructor advising anyone about a tactic that could very well result in errant bullets.

    But I did find one article that discussed the topic and, I think, had excellent advice on the topic. The article is "Warning Shots and Covering Fire" by Gary Evens at the Buckeye Firearms Association. As to covering fire, he explains:

    ...“Covering fire” occurs when you fire your shots in the direction of the assailant in order to force them to seek protection and keep their head down while you and/or others attempt to find cover or escape from the scene. It is also used to distract the assailant while someone else attempts to get into a better position to attack and subdue them. It is different than “direct fire” which is fired directly at an assailant in order to stop their attack. Direct fire requires that you be able to see the assailant when you fire every shot, while covering fire does not. ...

    Covering fire is not a new or unusual concept. It is routinely used by the military where it is sometimes referred to as “suppressive fire”. It is defined as “fire that degrades the performance of an enemy force below the level needed to fulfill its mission.” In practical terms it is often used to cover the withdrawal or advance of friendly troops by forcing the enemy to seek cover and disrupt their ability to engage those friendly troops with hostile fire. It is also sometimes used by law enforcement officers when they are assaulting a barricaded position where an armed suspect is located.

    Are there situations where the use of covering fire by an armed citizen is appropriate? I think the answer is definitely “yes”! An example of this might be if an active killer is in the building you are in and is going around shooting people. Especially if they have superior firepower (i.e. a semi-automatic rifle like an AR-15 or AK-47) and you only have a handgun and you are attempting to escape (i.e., flee), you may want to shoot down a hallway in the direction they are coming from once you see them to force them to seek cover while you continue to move to an exit. While the killer is seeking cover, they are unable to fire accurate shots at you if they can fire at all. Of course, you wouldn’t want to do this if there are innocent people directly in your line of fire. (If they are, they are also probably at least partially blocking the killer’s view of you.) To make sure the killer stays behind cover while you move, you will need to fire additional shots in their direction, but you probably won’t be able to use direct fire because you will not be able to see them. While firing covering shots you may also allow others to escape with you.

    Covering fire is very different from “spray and pray”, where a rapid series of shots are fired in the general direction of the threat without looking to see where your rounds are going. It is basically “undirected fire”. When “spray and pray” is used, all your available rounds are often expended in a couple of seconds, enabling your assailant to resume their attack while you attempt to reload if you have spare ammunition available.

As to actual use of this tactic, he advises:

    While you are moving but before you have seen the assailant, you will probably want to keep your gun pointed in the general direction you expect the threat to appear from. That way you are prepared to fire once you see the threat. This is especially useful if you are trying to protect others by screening their movement. But it also could be dangerous if someone else sees your gun and mistakes you for the assailant, or if you encounter responding law enforcement officers. To them, anyone else with a gun in their hands is a threat!

    Your ability to use covering fire will be entirely dependent on the circumstances you find yourself in. It will always be preferable to engage an assailant with direct fire, but you will not always be able to do so. Factors that must be considered include the presence of other people in the direction you might be firing in, what kind of “backstops” there are to stop any bullets that you do fire, the distance between you and the threat, the type of weapon(s) the assailant has, the availability of cover or concealment, and the presence of other people you are attempting to protect. You will need to weigh the risks associated with firing covering shots and those of not doing so. Remember, there are no absolutes, and that everything that you do has some degree of risk attached to it. In the end, your goal is to survive so you need to do everything possible to improve your chances of doing so.


  1. I most vigorously disagree. Nope. Nope. Nope. Even if you cast aside the responsibility for each round being discharged, the highest capacity handgun magazine doesn't have enough rounds that you can afford to waste them. If one can see the bad guy then shoot at the bad guy. That should have some effect. And, what if there is more than one bad guy, hmmm?

    1. The ammunition issue is a valid concern, especially when using a revolver or a single stack semi-auto.

    2. spray and pray is never a good tactic. there is no handgun that is a death ray; it will take more than one or two shots to stop the perp. and, as I mentioned up above what if there are several bad guys as we have seen in so many videos of "teens" doing a smack down.

  2. Nothing makes you want to duck more than rounds impacting near you. Just the sound of a full auto weapon makes you want to duck if you are unsure of it's origin or intentions.


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