Top 10 Self-Defense Myths, Busted

When you’re a gun owner who’s new to the world of self-defense—and even sometimes when you’re not new—it can be frustrating trying to sort out the endless “wisdom” on the internet. Although technology has given the world many fantastic things, it has also created a platform where anyone and everyone can present themselves as an expert. This makes it a challenge to decipher what is good advice related to self-defense scenarios and what is horrendously bad advice.

self defense myths
There’s a lot of bad advice out there and it can be hard to know what to believe or ignore. For example, this image shows a lot of ineffective methods. (Photo credit: MyFlowerTree)

Don’t worry; we’re here to help. Check out ten common self-defense myths and why they’re flat wrong.

1. Drag them back inside!

You’ve probably heard this one: “If you shoot someone in self-defense and they make it back out the door of your home, drag them back inside before calling the police.”

home invader image
Don’t tamper with evidence, people. (Photo credit: NBC 5)

This is terrible advice because not only is it blatantly illegal, it’s stupid. Even if this wasn’t illegal—which it is—it would be bad advice because forensic science has come far enough to figure out when a scene’s been tampered with. It also makes you appear guilty even if it was truly a justified shooting. Don’t mess with the evidence after a self-defense situation plays out. It won’t end in your favor and could turn a straightforward case into a nightmare.

2. Carry an unloaded gun. It’s safer.

This is a common belief: “You should carry your gun without a round chambered because it’s safer.”

empty chamber
Carrying a gun with an empty chamber is a bad idea. (Photo credit: The Armory Life)

Maybe it’ll make you feel safer if you carry what is essentially an empty gun, but odds are stacked against your ability to draw, load, and fire your gun fast enough if someone attacks you. People often say this specifically about guns like Glocks that don’t have external thumb safeties, but it’s important to remember that those guns have internal safeties. It’s also good to realize that over-reliance on a safety mechanism is ridiculous and that you should abide by the four rules of gun safety regardless of whether your gun has external safeties.

If you feel unsafe carrying a gun with a round chambered, you probably need more training. Go get it and learn to carry a gun that’s actually ready to defend your life if need be.

3. There is no need for self-defense insurance. 

Plenty of people think: “I don’t need self-defense insurance because if I shoot someone, I’ll be right! It’ll be a clean shoot!”

Carry a gun for self-defense?
Carry a gun for self-defense? Then you should probably consider getting some sort of carry coverage. (Photo credit: The Heritage Foundation)

The idea that you don’t need any type of carry coverage because you’d never do anything wrong is ludicrous. It has nothing to do with how right or wrong you are, it has to do with what the legal system decides to do. Being in the right doesn’t mean you won’t have any legal hassles—criminal or civil—and doesn’t protect you from huge legal fees. Get coverage. It’s a small price to pay that could potentially save you from losing your home and going bankrupt in the future.

4. Carry permits are stupid.

“Carry permits are stupid. It’s my right to carry a gun, I don’t need the government’s permission!”

license to carry handgun
Yes, it’s a good idea to get a concealed carry permit. (Photo credit: Concealed Carry Ed)

Yes, it might be true that the Second Amendment simply reaffirmed existing rights, but there are still laws in place that it’s your job to follow. If a carry permit is required to carry your gun, whether concealed or openly, then get one.

Being a responsible gun owner also means being a law-abiding one and if that means you go through whatever steps are necessary to obtain a carry permit, that’s life. How do you think it’s going to play out if you have to use your gun in self-defense and you didn’t have the necessary carry permit? Remember, claiming ignorance of the law is never a valid legal defense.

5. Candy Striping Ammunition

“I alternate loads in my self-defense gun to do maximum damage/because I assume the order of my shots fired will go a certain way.”

candy caning
Candy caning ammo is touted as a great plan by some gun owners. (Photo credit: Everyday No Days Off)

Sometimes referred to as “candy striping, “Dutch loading,” or “survival loading”—among other things—the practice of loading a gun with alternating rounds of hollow points and full metal jacket loads isn’t a good one. Not only does that mean you’ll have target loads interspersed with defensive loads—and those can easily over-penetrate and don’t create significant wound cavities—but it means uneven, unpredictable recoil and random results. There are negative legal implications to candy striping, too; the easiest answer to this one is to say don’t do it.

6. Kick the door with your attacker’s boots!

Have you heard this one before? “If someone breaks into your house and you shoot them, put their boots on and go kick your front door in so it looks real.”

door kick diagram
Leave kicking doors in to the bad guys…and firefighters. (Photo credit: The Art of Manliness)

This one’s often accompanied by “my friend’s cousin’s brother’s friend is a cop and he said…” but it is never a good idea. Here we come back to something that’s totally illegal and also foolish. Forensics will tell on you if witnesses don’t, and then you’ll have falsified, tampered, and a whole slew of other things. Don’t stage a crime scene. It’s never a good idea.

7. You only need to train at close range.

“All self-defense shootings take place from 9 feet away, so I only train at close range.”

trigonometry math worksheet
Do all self-defense shootings happen from 9 feet away? (Photo credit: GauthMath)

First of all, it’s ridiculous to think you can predict or control the distance at which you are forced to defend your life. Second, there’s ample evidence to prove how unpredictable this can be.

According to the FBI’s LEOKA (Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted) report spanning 2015 to 2019, 44% of those shootings took place between 0 and 5 feet, 21% took place between 6 and 10 feet, 15% took place from 11 to 20 feet, 8% happened between 21 and 50 feet, and 12% played out from over 50 feet away. This isn’t an exhaustive study, but it does give you an idea of how far away these things can happen.

There’s absolutely no guarantee you’ll be the victim of a close-range attack and if you only train for that one possibility, you’re going to have a bad time in the case of an actual assault.

8. I don’t have to worry until my attacker is closer than 21 feet.

This one comes from the Tueller Drill, and is a common misunderstanding: “The 21 foot rule means until my attacker, who has a knife, is closer than that, I’m fine.”

Tueller Drill self-defense
It’s time people stop misusing the Tueller Drill. (Photo credit: Readyman)

No, that isn’t how the Tueller Drill works. Originally, the 21 foot rule referred to the fact that an assailant armed with a knife who was 21 feet away or closer could reach their victim before the said victim could draw and fire their gun. The average time span for someone to cover 21 feet was 1.5 seconds although it can be much faster. Just because someone with a knife is more than 21 feet away doesn’t mean you’re magically immune from harm. Knives are more dangerous weapons than many people give them credit for. Stop citing the Tueller Drill as gospel and applying it in ways it shouldn’t be used.

9. Open carry, because muh rights.

“I open carry my gun as a deterrent to bad guys.”

open carry
Is open carry ever a good idea? (Photo credit: NBC News)

In reality, open carry doesn’t serve as a deterrent to the bad guys among us. Instead, it can paint a target on your back as the first threat to take out. That or it just lets the bad guy say “Hey, free gun!” and they proceed to assault you for the purpose of acquiring your weapon. Does this mean open carry is never a good idea? Not exactly, but the situations where it’s preferable are few and far between.

10. There is so much useless advice out there.

“Put your keys between your fingers when you walk to the car! Pee on yourself if someone tries to rape you! Scream really loudly if you get attacked! Stomp on your assailant’s instep!”

keys between fingers - useless self-defense
No, you should not put your keys between your fingers. (Photo credit: LadBible)

This one’s just a summary of generally horrible advice. If you put keys between your fingers you’re just going to maim your own hands. Urinating on yourself isn’t going to dissuade a rapist. Screaming tends to be pointless and stomping on feet is laughable. Basically, if you want to be capable of defending yourself from a deadly threat, get training, and carry a firearm. Odds are you’ll never use it, but wouldn’t it be better to have it and not need it than to be in desperate need and unable to defend yourself?

There are a lot of random tips and tricks for self-defense, many of which specifically target women. In the real world there is no magical trick. Women aren’t going to out-muscle men and most people are trapped in normalcy bias—that and paralyzing fear—meaning bystanders won’t be much help. You are your own first responder, and that’s reality.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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