Your Tactical Training Scenario - Racking a Shotgun

How many times have you heard this statement?

“Just get a 12 gauge pump shotgun for home defense. The noise of the slide racking will make any burglar piss his pants and run.”

Does that actually happen? Sometimes, yes.

Here’s an example where a store clerk sent an armed robber running by merely racking his shotgun. Look at the link below for more details.

Flint man faces federal charges after store clerk pulls shotgun on him following threat

While it worked in this case, I wouldn’t rely on the technique of merely racking the shotgun to be too much of a deterrent value against a determined criminal. Let me provide you with a counter example...

It was in my first couple years as a cop. I was working the midnight shift and really believed what my instructors told me about the “awesome power” of the shotgun and that merely racking the slide would cause criminals to cower in fear.

I got a call about an armed man assaulting someone in a Taco Bell drive through in our city. The caller worked at Taco Bell and heard a man violently beating his girlfriend while stopped in the drive through lane.

The restaurant worker thought the beating was so bad that he attempted to intervene. When he ran up to the car, the assault suspect pulled a pistol on him. The worker ran back inside the door and called the police.

When we arrived only a couple minutes later, we found an abandoned car with a bloodied woman crying inside. The caller told us the man with the gun had just run across the street.

Being a smart cop, I thought “If he has a gun, I want a bigger gun.” I grabbed my cruiser shotgun and took off after him. As I closed the distance, I saw our suspect run inside an all night laundromat. By then I had two other officers with me. I sent one officer around to guard the back door while I went to the front door with the other.

Normally, rushing into a situation with a potentially barricaded gunman is unwise. The problem was that we didn’t know if there were any potential hostages inside. If there were innocent people doing their laundry in the establishment, we didn’t want them to be hurt by the violent suspect. We went in.

As soon as we entered we saw the suspect at the far end of the building. My partner was holding his .45 pistol on the guy and I had the shotgun. As soon as I saw the armed man, I racked the shotgun and ordered him down to the ground.

To my surprise, instead of cowering in fear at the mighty 12 gauge, the suspect charged us! He was being held at gunpoint by two cops and he chose to attack.

We didn’t know where the gun was, but the suspect’s hands were empty. Because the man was so far away from us when he started his charge (maybe 25 meters), I was able to draw my pepper spray with my off hand and blast him in the face as he closed the distance. It was the first and only time I’ve had pepper spray work instantly. The suspect fell down on the ground as soon as he was hit and we safely handcuffed and arrested him. He had ditched the gun during his flight.

Here’s the deal...

A motivated attacker isn’t going to be deterred by anything less than using more force against him than he is willing to experience. Rape whistles, yelling the word “no”, or racking a pump shotgun WILL NOT deter a motivated attacker. For that job, ruthless violence is the only solution.

But not all attackers are that motivated. Some, like the man in the linked story above, WILL flee when they hear a round being pumped into the chamber of a shotgun.

Does that mean you should choose a shotgun for home defense because it has a built in potential deterrent mechanism? No. I don’t think that’s the right answer. A criminal who flees at the sound of a racking shotgun will also likely flee when you yell out to him that you’ve called the police. He would likely flee at the sight of ANY gun being pointed at him as well. There’s nothing magical about the shotgun.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the shotgun as a home defense weapon. I have one under my bed as I am writing this article. But it’s not for everyone. Some people who buy into the “rack it and they’ll run” argument would likely be better served by handguns or carbines for personal protection.

Chose your defensive weapons because they fit your needs, not because some idiot believes that criminals will magically disappear because your gun makes a clacking sound.

Greg Ellifritz is a retired firearms and defensive tactics training officer. He holds instructor or master instructor certifications in more than 75 different weapon systems, defensive tactics programs and police specialty areas. Greg has a master's degree in Public Policy and Management and is an instructor for both the Ohio Peace Officer's Training Academy and the Tactical Defense Institute.

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