Q&A: Gun Disarms and Reasonable Force

How would my character disarm the girl who is aiming a handgun at him? She doesn’t intend to shoot (although he doesn’t know that), and he doesn’t want to hurt her, just get the gun away from her. It’s his way of proving to her who he is (because he has the ability to disarm her). Everything I’ve looked up online for it includes hurting the attacker as some kind of defense mechanism.

It’s not a defense mechanism, it’s necessity. This is a culmination of a couple issues that we haven’t really covered in detail.

The first is reasonable force; basically, this is the absolute minimum amount of harm you need to inflict in a given situation to ensure your safety and the safety of others, including the person trying to kill you. Make no mistake, if someone’s pointing a gun at you, they are trying to kill you. (I’ll come back to this in a minute.)

The more training your character has, then under the law, the less harm they’re allowed to legally inflict. This is because restraining your opponent without hurting them is a lot harder, and requires more skill, than simply killing them.

Reasonable force is a bit of a pain because it is very subjective in the moment. It scales upwards based on a lot of factors, including the nature of the threat. If someone is threatening to “beat the shit out of you,” responding by crippling or killing them is (usually) going to be considered excessive.

Guns take that and toss it all out the window. Pointing one at someone is always a threat of lethal force. It doesn’t matter what the person with the gun intends. It is the weapon not the person that escalates the threat.

The second major issue is that gun disarms are really hard, and really, really dangerous. Most martial artists that attempt to use them in actual situations get shot. It’s a ratio close to 9/10, that’s 9 get shot to every one that 1 succeeds. Often, even if the disarm is successful, they get shot anyway during the attempt. An attacker who is already jittery on adrenaline will take the fast movement of the disarm i.e. the person moving towards them as a threatening gesture. They may fire reflexively, even if they didn’t originally intend to. The response evokes “oh my god, they’re attacking me” and that instinctive response will be even stronger and more immediate in someone who is untrained. This may also force a switch over in the attacker themselves from “I don’t want to hurt you” to “I’m going to shoot you because now you’re threatening my life”. It may not seem logical when they’re already holding the gun, but within their mind it is. An attack/disarm will escalate the situation because it shows them that the person they’re pointing the gun at (whom they may trust) is willing to hurt them or even shoot them. The person who is attempting the disarm is taking their power away from them and that is threatening, especially to someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. If the gun is all they have to control the situation then they won’t let it go without a fight.

With most techniques, the consequences for not executing them perfectly are fairly limited, you might take a blow you didn’t want to, or strike with less force than you intended. But, for gun disarms, failing to execute the technique flawlessly can be fatal.

What this means is, when it comes to gun disarms, the priority has been to develop simple techniques that work, and screw everything else. Gun disarms are, as a general rule, easy to learn, but, they also come without any margin for error.

The result is, most gun disarms will wrench joints and break bones. Most disarms can escalate into kills, because they leave the martial artist with the gun in a ready to fire state. The martial artist themselves may accidentally shoot their attacker once they get the gun away from them because they are also jittery with adrenaline and they left their finger on the trigger. Disarms end with the gun pointed at the attacker. Once adrenaline gets factored in, it can be very difficult to not follow through with an execution shot. With the exception of outright shooting the gunman, this is all pretty solidly reasonable force. Many instructors suggest for students who are unused to guns to brace it on their hip, instead of holding it out in a ready to fire state, as this reduces the risk of them accidentally shooting the attacker or their attacker taking it back.

Finally, and this is a general threat assessment issue, but it does affect disarms. Untrained shooters are much more dangerous. Once the shooting starts, a trained shooter is going to be able to kill more efficiently, but an untrained shooter is more likely to shoot someone by accident.

If you have a character pointing a gun at someone they don’t want to hurt (outside of some edge, “I don’t want to hurt you; but, I will kill you,” cases), they’re not going to be trained in firearms safety.

What this means is, and I hate harp on this over and over, but, when you have a character pointing a gun at someone, they’re always threatening to kill the other person. Even if they gun isn’t loaded, even if they don’t want to hurt anyone, even if they just want attention. They’re still threatening to kill someone.

I’d actually argue that a trained shooter is safer to disarm, as well. Proper trigger discipline can work against getting a rapid shot off into the martial artist. Of course a “safer” version of an extremely lethal situation is still quite dangerous.

Now, non-harmful gun disarms do exist. But, they’re not a part of any martial art. Stage fighting includes a lot of techniques that can be practiced safely. The problem is, as a general rule, stage fighting is cooperative choreography between two performers. So the gun disarms you’ll see on TV that leave both combatants with all their fingers in the original sockets aren’t real combat techniques.

If you want to look at getting a gun away from someone safely, I’d recommend watching The Negotiator, it’s not about martial arts, but it is about talking people down.

-Starke

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