Why You Should Aim Center Mass

We aim center mass to ensure an effective hit on an assailant.

One of the first things a qualified firearms instructor should teach a new shooter is to aim center mass. For experienced Second Amendment Radicals, armed citizens, and professional shooters of all stripes, this concept is pretty much dogma. However, new shooters are often not given a detailed explanation as to why aiming center mass is important.

In this case, accepting the received wisdom after you pick up that shiny new pistol or rifle is fine, but as active participants in a (hopefully) functional Constitutional Republic, we should make it a habit of questioning things, even if it seems to make sense at first listen. Plus, it makes you a better shooter and able to answer the question…

Why do we aim and shoot center mass?

Out of the blue, we may or may not understand why we aim and shoot center mass. It’s something we were told, hopefully by someone who knows what they are doing. It’s like asking why the sun rises in the morning - outside of scientific circles, the sun rises in the morning because it does. But why?

(cue Louis CK bit, ha ha)

The question does come up in numerous firearms-related discussions though. And to be fair, for new people, the question does deserve a coherent answer.

We’ll need to get some basics out of the way first.

What Is ‘Center Mass’?

It’s simple really. In the context of a defensive shooting engagement, center mass refers to the torso area of the target. When we all train to shoot center mass, the idea is to hit the part of the target where the vital organs are, i.e. the heart, the lungs, and so on. If it helps to visualize, think of the area where a plate of body armor covers - that’s center mass. Hence also why said plate covers it, it’s where the vitals are.

The human torso, more or less - there's the vitals.

Why We’re Aiming Center Mass

You just got that shiny 9mm pistol or that sturdy AR-15 rifle in basic, bad black. Surprised by the soft recoil of both platforms, you’re going from gun-newbie to resembling an adopted member of the Miculek clan in the space of an hour. Or not.

You might be landing lead on paper within that time, but true accuracy, especially under stress, takes time to develop. However, bad guys don’t wait for you to ascend to John Wick-levels of proficiency, so we look for ways to reduce the learning curve for defensive shooting techniques, and the best way to do that, is to present a larger target.

When we look upon our bedraggled carcasses, the largest part of our bodies (hopefully) is the torso area. If it’s your head or something, you’ve got some issues that are beyond the scope of this blog or my skillset. I know some 2A-friendy doctors though - hit me up.

Anyway - the torso is usually the biggest target presented to you in most angles of attack. Especially on the move, this becomes critical.

If you think about it this way, when you’re really in a defensive shooting situation, you are most likely on the wrong side of the action. You’re not expecting an attack, but whoomp there it is. It’s the witching hour and bad guys with bad thoughts are about. And you’re on the menu.

Your fine motor skills are out the window as you grab for your weapon. Those sessions at your favorite range learning to kneecap a gnat matter not. Well, they do, since if you’re at that level of precision, even under stress, you’re able to do stuff. Still, you’re aiming for center mass.

Bang - you press the trigger multiple times and a batch of 124-grain 9mm hollow points take flight, and impact center mass. Most likely you’ll strike a vital and start the process of taking the baddie out of the fight via blood loss, or a central nervous system hit. Even degraded, you’re able to hit the biggest target - center mass. The assailant goes down, you ensure he’s not going to get back up (sidebar: we shoot to stop, not to kill - if he’s not moving you legally cannot perform what amounts to an execution…), and you or another friendly party on the scene is calling 911 immediately. Another sidebar - you want to be the first to call the cops, it will help your upcoming self-defense case.

About Those Leg Shots And Head Shots

In and out of the gun community, you’ll hear a lot of well-meaning and sometimes brash talking about “shooting them in the leg” or “headshots”.

Outside of the movies, that stuff doesn’t work. You might shoot an assailant in the leg, but it’s his hand and arm that are operating a weapon. And if he’s on the ground or hobbling around with a hollow-point projectile in his leg, he’s going to be pretty pissed and more liable to shoot back at you.

Also worth mentioning is that leg tends to move around in space and time. The skinny appendage is flailing about in four dimensions. Under stress, you’re gonna most likely miss. Remember, you are personally responsible for each and every round that is fired from your gun. You’re not the government, you’re a Second Amendment Radical and armed citizen. Whatever the bullet hits, whether it’s an assailant, the wall, or the drunk guy sleeping it off next door, it’s your problem.

You might win the fight, but that 9mm HST round that went wide and ripped into poor Billy, the town drunk, who was sleeping off a rough sesh with the Everclear bottle next door, is on you. How much would it suck to be the victor in a home invasion, only to do 5 years in the clink for manslaughter?

Same thing for the head shot idea. Sure, a solid hit in the squishy CPU is going to shut that crap down post-haste, but the bad guy’s head is weaving and bopping aroud like James Brown after hitting some of the good toot backstage. Plus, there’s a whole lotta bone in front of the brain. Even the most effective self-defense rounds can get stopped by bone - at least enough so the bad dude can still fight for a moment. Oh, and the primary motor cortex of your brain is not up front. Ironically the home of the central nervous system isn’t the ideal place to shoot an assailant.

So yeah, center mass - always.

A Small Word Of Comfort On Center Mass

It’s understandable to not want to shoot someone center mass. Those of us who are close to being a baseline human being mentally are not set up to kill, even in self-defense. Taking the life of another human just isn’t the way we work. That’s why the military forces around the world have to work hard on their troops, to overcome that hesitation. Even so, it’s been reported that a percentage of soldiers will deliberately miss, hoping someone else will deliver the fatal shot in a conflict.

That being said, as of this writing, most of us don’t live in an active conflict zone. We’re not being deployed into blasted areas, far from basic medical services. The lights are on, TikTok still works, and the Amazon guy is usually on time. What I’m getting at is that most of us are in civilization, or whatever passes for it nowadays. Meaning hospitals, ambulances, and the like.

By most statistics, those who are shot and close to modern medical services are most likely to survive. It’s also why after the brass hits the floor, and the threat is neutralized, your first call should be to 911. You only need to say that you were attacked, and to send police and an ambulance to your location. Then hang up, and wait.

Anyway, if the EMTs and police roll up in timely fashion, it’s actually quite likely that the person who attacked you that you subsequently shot will survive. Small comfort, yes. But it’s possible.

Sidebar - in some jurisdictions, you may actually be required to attempt to render first aid to to the attacker you just shot. It falls under the umbrella of Good Samaritan laws. Also, to be blunt, it makes your self-defense case a heckuva lot easier if you’re doing the good deed.

Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney. Talk to one for the real deal.

Nothing In A Gunfight Is Certain

Getting into a gunfight is chaotic and crazy. It’s why we work to avoid such things, and are only always armed as a last resort. While shooting center mass isn’t an absolute fight-stopper, it does give you the best chance of emerging victorious. The best we can all do is train effectively, learn what works, and try our best to be the better combatant.

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