Start with the Most Immediate Threat

Let’s talk about transitioning between multiple targets.

Dealing with multiple targets is critical for the defender. The concept of “Gang Fu” as the most widely practiced and effective martial art in the world is often discussed in DMT classes - attackers often come in packs. Part of the reason is there is a psychological effect of being “anonymous” in the crowd, allowing people to release their inhibitions and do things they would never otherwise do. When humans have the opportunity to act in anonymity, the probability of anti-social behavior grows, which is part of the reason riots occur, and political protest events with the so-called “Black Bloc” technique can be so volatile. Simply said: a person who wouldn’t usually have the the guts to openly engage in an evil act feels more confident while hidden behind a mask or a crowd.

The most likely manifestations of this anonymous team threat is a gang attack on the street or a home invasion. These incidents are usually done with a crew of 2 to 4 and the goal is speed, overwhelming the target with violence, and taking control of a disabled threat, usually for the purpose of robbery. Because “Gang Fu” can occur right in your own house or walking down the street, it’s critical for defenders to know how to react.When engaging multiple targets with a firearm, there are two major considerations: 

  1. Identifying the most immediate threat
  2. Defending your firearm within the engagement

Today let’s talk about the first consideration. Threat immediacy is the method of quickly determining which threat deserves your attention first. There are a number of factors to this, including distance, level of aggression, weapon in the threat’s hands, position of the threat in the environment, and no-shoot targets that you’d either like to avoid muzzling or maybe even need to defend. Plus, each of these factors must be assessed in an instant. Let’s go through each one.


Generally, the closer the threat, the more immediate the danger. This is the same principle behind the Scanning Process when you enter a new environment: who has the fastest access to you? Threats that are close could quickly get their hands on you or your firearm. They also don’t need much skill to be able get effective rounds on you if they have their own firearm. However, sometimes this rule of distance doesn’t apply. Say you have two threats and one is closer, but is obviously extremely tentative, holding back from you, trying to intimidate you to give up. He has a baseball bat. On the other hand, the target further away is holding a rifle or a shot gun. It might be prudent to skip the closer target to take out the bad guy with the shotgun and then return to the tentative threat with the bat.


In any violent encounter, a threat might be a wolf or a raven. A wolf seeks to take you down, looking to grab you by the shank or the jugular and snuff you out. He’s happy to eat you because you’re weaker than he is. Ravens, however, know that you’re a threat. They’ll poke at you and make a lot of noise, often aiding or leading the wolves to the target, but they’re the scavengers, not the initial killers. This can be seen in gang attacks as well, where one person may be the prime initiator of the attack while on the periphery there are others egging the initiator on, maybe taking a pot shot if there happens to be an opening. What’s useful to note here is that if the wolf is stopped or scared off, the ravens will flee as well. For us as defenders, this might mean we could use the tactic of “shock and awe” to take out the instigator with as much aggression and brutality as possible, shocking the others into fleeing.


Weapon type can determine which of the threats to address first as well. Generally speaking, the weapon that has the best chance of harming or killing you should be taken out first. Say you have two threats, equally far away. If one has a knife and the other a handgun, you should go for the threat with the handgun first, as they have the best chance of hurting or killing you at that range.


However, weapon type can be overridden by their position in the environment. Say you have the same two threats, but the one with the knife is a few feet away and the one with the handgun is inside a building. I would say that you should engage the knife threat first, as in close range, an edged weapon is very dangerous and potentially disabling.


Finally, consider the possibility of people in the environment who you do NOT want to shoot, like innocent bystanders or even hostages. Generally we don’t even want to allow our muzzle to cross the path of a no-shoot target, but depending upon the situation and how fast we have to go, there may be no choice. Having a very well developed Muzzle and Trigger Finger Awareness skill is key, and working your foundations is what will put that skill deeply in your brain. Simply doing range training isn’t enough to ingrain this skill. You’ll need to do scenario and classroom drill work, when the pressure is low, because you will screw this up a lot at the beginning. Unlike the advice from the movie Speed, you typically want to avoid shooting the hostage.

Developing your ability to quickly assess your environment and determine which is the most immediate threat is not an easy skill and will take time and lots of reps. You can start training for it with a SIRT and different colored post-it notes. Simply set up the notes of two different colors, at random, around the room. Decide which color is a threat, and which is a no-shoot. If you have a shot timer, set the start time to random. Then, close your eyes and start to turn in a circle. When the buzzer goes off, open your eyes and assess your most immediate threat, in this case the closest and most direct post-it. Then draw and engage it with three shots before determining your next most immediate and closest threat and transitioning to it, ensuring that your muzzle doesn’t sweep a no-shoot target.

Next week, we’ll go into the second consideration, defending that firearm in the transition.