Skip to content


by on June 6, 2021

On Target

by Marco M. Pardi (second release, with updated information)

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly. The comments sections for all previous articles have been opened for use. I will certainly look forward to your comments.

The text below should in no way be construed as advocating or providing a “how to” on the taking of life. The purpose is to counter the simplistic and misleading media portrayals that make violence appear clean, easy and of little consequence. (Marco M. Pardi)

Real events of carjacking, robbery, murder and home invasion played repeatedly on daily news programs, Hollywood blockbusters, and video games have a tendency to coalesce, especially when they describe and/or portray violence. Marketing and sales data consistently show sudden spikes in weapons purchases immediately following spectacular shooting incidents. Motivation for these purchases seems to swing from fear the weapons will be banned – even confiscated to visceral fear of being the next victim if unprotected by firearm ownership. Enthusiasts, regardless of the purpose for which they own firearms, have noted in recent years that ammunition, especially for certain types of firearms, is scarce to simply unavailable. Yet, while certain firearms may be banned, outright confiscation is a most unlikely scenario. And, as will be presented below, visceral motivation for purchase is commonly a prelude to tragedy.

Video games, films and television – albeit based on “true events” in some cases, and even most of the better news coverage fail to address realities concurrent to and subsequent to the events portrayed. The sales have been made, the tickets sold, the sponsors pleased and it’s on to the next item. Let’s look at these portrayals, beginning with hand-to-hand and ranging to remote sniper activity.

Despite their fearsome reputation, formal martial arts are appropriately named; they are art forms with the added characteristic of enabling the performer to disable, subdue, and possibly kill an opponent. Because they are so heavily formalized they are predictable. They are impressive in matches, but often of little use in confrontations. Alternatively, some military and intelligence officer trainees are schooled in “Physical Apprehension and Restraint Techniques”, a program which appears to be basic “mixed martial arts”. These techniques enable the user to disable and disarm opponents armed with knives and, if close enough, firearms. A very select subset of these trainees are schooled in a lethal fighting form known as Krav Maga. Training is largely non-contact since each move is calculated and designed to break bones or rupture organs. These officers are further trained in an arcane preparation to recognize and use any common item which comes to hand such as a playing card, a ballpoint pen, or a plastic drinking straw to inflict lethal damage. These training programs are choreographed to enable the students to engage in unprotected full contact just short of lethality. Outcomes commonly include periods of recovery from severe bruising, even broken bones.

Media viewers are treated to the fancy moves, but not the grueling preparation and the painful aftermath. Media viewers are also commonly treated to images of the good guy rendering a guard unconscious and then moving on to the objective. Only a fool leaves a guard unconscious, liable to awaken at any moment and sound the alarm. Once down, the guard is silently killed.

Schooling in the use of the fighting knife begins with understanding the parts of the knife and what the knife can and cannot do. Films often show someone throwing a knife at an opponent, it sticking in, and the opponent folding over in death – as if the human torso is merely a sandbag into which any knife will immediately stick and kill. Throwing one’s knife is the dumbest thing one can do. The crossbar bisecting the wrapped grip tang and the sharpened blade tang is there, not for sword dueling but for keeping the hand from slipping down the grip onto the blade when one plunges the knife and encounters bone. It also assists when twisting the knife to maximize tissue and blood vessel damage. It is common that one has to grip and hold the opponent while inserting the knife repeatedly. Expect to come away bloodied. An option for those unable to obtain a firearm yet wanting an alternative to a knife is the bladed weapon commonly known as a Bolo Machete. Shorter than the average machete, it provides a powerful strike without the risk of being too cumbersome in close quarters. Users must be sure the machete is equipped with a wrist strap, which ensures it will not slip from or be knocked from one’s grasp.

The proper use of the garrote, a device for strangling the opponent, requires training in the positioning of the arms, a technique commonly misrepresented in media. Improper positioning of the arms prior to application of the garrote can result in a wrestling match with unpleasant consequences. The best garrotes are single braided wire. In addition to strangulation, they frequently cut through the jugular vein and the carotid artery spraying blood until the heart stops beating.

Recent decades have seen an alarming rise in the sale of firearms for “home defense”. As a backdrop, media portraying police or military searching a home or taking up defensive positions within the home show exactly the wrong way to go about it. It is hard to decide if this is done out of ignorance or out of some misguided belief that they should not show the correct way. News clips pertaining to the purchasing trends sometimes show people, usually women, wearing hearing protection and firing pistols or revolvers at gun ranges, the “bad guy” being a black silhouette. Like martial arts, this is fine if you are preparing for competition shooting.

In home defense scenarios the resident is immediately faced with a choice: Confrontation or concealment, the so-called “fight or flight” response. Despite the hours at the family friendly shooting range, many inexperienced residents are ill prepared to act on the confrontation choice – the shooting of a human versus the shooting of a paper target. Too often we read of tragedy when a family member is mistaken for an intruder. And, there are several problems with conventional bullet firing pistols and revolvers as home defense. A bullet requires true aim in a sudden, often darkened situation. When a firearm is discharged in such a situation (darkened and in close quarters) two factors work against the inexperienced shooter: Muzzle flash temporarily blinds the shooter; and, muzzle report temporarily stuns the shooter. The effect is similar to a mini stun grenade. If the first shot was not optimally effective, there is a gap time before the shooter can re-acquire the target. During that time the shooter cannot clearly see or hear the target moving about. Rapid fire, especially if it repeats the error of the first shot only compounds the problem, especially if the shooter is inexperienced in handling recoil drift.

Some residents appear to feel “the more gun, the better” and so choose assault rifles. Bad mistake. As compact as they often are, they are still clumsy in darkened close quarters. And, even when fitted with flash hiders, they merely diffuse the flash, still illuminating the area. The same holds for “silencers”. There are no silencers; there are suppressors, which diffuse the sound waves to disguise the point of origin and somewhat reduce the sharp blast. The average sound reduction is about 30 decibels. The result is similar to a barking cough, not a zipping sound.

All bullet firing weapons, long guns or handguns, share another problem: Over penetration. The calibers and loads often considered appropriate for home defense are such that they go through walls, including the studs on which the drywall is mounted. This puts others in the home, even neighboring homes at risk.

Since most in-home confrontations will occur within 15′, frequently in darkened settings, and with inexperienced residents, the best home defense choice is the .410 shotgun shell firing revolver in 5 or 6 shot configuration. Every ammunition manufacturer has rushed to provide this ammunition, in a variety of configurations. Those thinking .410s are for young boys shooting squirrels might note that, although the figures vary slightly by barrel length, .410 (00 Buck) rounds deliver 4 steel balls at 1,225 feet per second, each yielding 1,081 ft-lbs of energy at 15 feet. Yet, their wall penetration is minimal. If you can’t take down your attacker with 5, or even 6 of these you should have chosen concealment.

And now the aftermath. Unlike the movies, in which the shooting stops and people are either quietly dead, comfortably alive, or gracefully wounded (“It’s only a scratch”), and we do not typically see the wounded combatants writhing in pain, holding in their intestines, or calling for their mothers as they go into shock, reality is often very different. Inexperienced shooters, especially in their own homes sometimes yield to the impulse to rush to the aid of the person they shot. A wounded assailant may yet be a capable assailant. And, there is a mess to clean up. Head shots, and some torso hits, bleed profusely. By the time the police and paramedics arrive there may be substantial pools of blood and urine, already breaking down into constituent parts. The odor quickly permeates fabrics like carpeting, drapes and other furnishings. Blood is difficult to remove from fabric. The police and EMS have no role in clean up. If kind, they may refer the resident to a local professional service which attends to this. Those costs are borne by the resident. Also borne by the resident are any costs incurred in therapy for self and/or family members traumatized by the events. And, family members of the assailant, no matter the criminal judgment of the event, are not barred from filing civil suit against the shooter – as has happened in some cases. Very simply, the shooting part is only a focal point, not the whole picture.

This last point particularly applies to trained snipers. A film just now coming our purports to tell the story of “American Sniper”. Not having seen it, I would not say it does or does not.

Sniper School is long and grueling. Time spent on the firing range is only the proof of a very complex and drawn out regimen, including hours spent understanding optics, ambient temperature, windage – including variations between sniper and distant target, concealed travel, concealed positioning, collateral risk assessment, and safe extraction. The calculations are often so demanding that snipers operate in teams; a shooter and a spotter who does all the calculations for the shooter. But those calculations pale in comparison to those which go into the decision to take the shot.

Typically done at a distance, often approaching 2,000 meters, the sniper has the final say on whether the person in his sight picture is a valid target. As we saw all too often in Viet Nam, every dead Vietnamese was a dead Viet Cong – after the fact. A significant part of the ongoing PTSD suffered by Viet Nam vets is the lingering uncertainty and doubt over the validity of their actions and of those around them. That same doubt may plague a home defender for years.

In sum, most people obtaining firearms for “self or home defense” are selecting exactly the wrong firearms. As of this writing two manufacturers offer a five or six shot .410 gauge revolver. Pricey, yes. But what value do you place on your life and those you care for?

I have not written this as an anti-gun screed or a pro-gun primer. I have tried to put the (all too literal) flashpoint of taking a life into its full context. I offer no statement on whether it is right or wrong. My concern lies with the way the entertainment media, and even news reports, mislead the public into viewing killing events as a simplistic day at the county fair, pay a dollar and shoot the metal ducks off the conveyor belt. The Teddy Bear you win may be a 180lb bloody mess.

From → Uncategorized

  1. P L WEDDING permalink

    Excellent article, Marco.

    Sent from my iPad



  2. Thank you, Pam. I was concerned that some readers might misconstrue my intent as supporting free and open purchase and use of weapons. I’m glad you discerned the actual intent.


  3. From Mike, in Oregon:

    Valuable essay, as always. The points about knife-throwing have always bugged me; TV shows make it look easy and instantly fatal, and neither is the case. Better to throw crockery or something heavy. It also galls me that TV crime dramas imply that car doors and other automotive sheet metal will stop bullets, so they’re a safe barricade to be behind. A car door certainly won’t stop automatic weapons fire, or anything larger than a .22.

    As you say, real violence is far uglier and messier–physically and mentally–than TV shows and movies usually even suggest. Years ago a woman friend shot at a half-drunk would-be thief who broke into her house very late one night–she was using a short-barreled .38 and missed him completely with several shots, just from across a room. He was scared shitless (and the cops caught him very shortly thereafter, a couple of blocks away); she was mildly traumatized for weeks.



    • Thank you, Mike. You are quite correct on every count. I sometimes wonder if media have dark motives in spreading such misinformation.

      The incident you describe is not uncommon, and I doubt it will get coverage in the National Rifle Association magazine.


  4. Thanks for sharing and explaining critical information in simple, unambiguous terms.  This is serious subject matter that is too often romanticized without any thought given to the myriad of potential consequences.  So many homes also have dogs who may get in between an intruder and their human family members.  

    Thanks for re-posting this, Marco, and I hope your readers will forward it along to others.  A+ for staying “middle of the road.”


  5. Thank you, V. I’m so glad to see you back.

    Yes, the dog issue is a serious concern. And many go frantic at the sound of gunfire.


  6. Steve Eidson permalink


    Did my discussion about The Wire prompt this one?

    I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.



    • Thanks, Steve. I very much enjoyed out discussion, although the subject was unpleasant. But no, this post was originally posted some time ago and I re-issued it in response to the recent spate in gun violence. Also, we have picked up quite a few readers since the original post and I wanted to give them an opportunity to respond.


      • Steve permalink

        Glad to hear it.

        I do enjoy action films and, since getting the kids a video console have played a couple games which are violent so I’m entirely guilty in this area. A John Woo film is entertaining, but not real life.
        I also have ridiculous stuff I got when I was 12 when we thought we were ninjas. Mike is entirely correct, throwing knives are pointless. Ask me to show you the scar on my knee from that age when I was bright enough to practice using a butterfly knife with wet hands.
        I still don’t own a gun (unless you count a BB rifle from teen years) and a two pack air rifle set Lisa won at a Christmas party many years ago that is still in the plastic.

        I’d rather not deal in any sort of real life violence though your descriptions are more than enough.


        • Thanks, Steve.


        • Dana permalink

          Steve, I enjoy violent video games and movies and feel no guilt for doing or saying so. I think they can be a good outlet and there really isn’t evidence they cause real life violence.

          The only problem I can see with video games like Call of Duty is that they might lead young people to assume that’s what combat is actually like. However, TV ads and recruiters do a good enough job of that regardless.


          • I agree with you, Dana, and would like to see the two of you “face off”. The one thing I’ve always said was missing from media presentations, whether games or films in theaters, is the smell. Once the person next to you gets their intestines blown out or their cranium popped open you will never forget the all enveloping, damp smell. Too bad we can’t require that this be piped into theaters.

            That’s probably all I should say.


            • Dana permalink

              Marco, no one can ever accuse you of sugar-coating the truth or mincing words.

              If only everyone could be as direct and blunt as you are. I’ve always appreciated that quality in you.


              • Steve permalink

                Fortunately, the kids play LEGO and Star Wars games. Both the ones I play are sci-fi based. I do like the fact that you can toggle off the graphic part of the violence because the story is what interests me. The games simulating historical battles are weird to me though. I completely understand being totally uninterested if you’ve experienced real violence though.


              • Steve permalink

                Forgot to thank you for not allowing me to be the only outlier, Dana. Thank you!


                • Dana permalink

                  I’m not quite sure what you mean Steve, but you’re welcome!


  7. I found the re-reading of this offering to be most interesting; I went back to the original posting to refresh my memory of my own comments. They remain valid, but even more so when placed against the scenes I am sometimes required to write for Grace’s story. I am sure you have noticed that she never enters battle casually, and that she sometimes feels the mental after-effects you mention in your article. I hate writing “battle scenes”, but I would hate even more for the situation to be real. Again, thanks for the illuminating information.


    • Thank you, Rose. It seems some articles gain validity as time passes. Sadly, that may be the case here.

      Yes, Grace is very realistically portrayed, and I very much hope readers of this site will have a look at yours. You are very precise in your detail.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: