How to Disarm a Handgun: Timing Your First Move

How to Disarm a Handgun

Ok, you’ve practiced how to disarm a handgun a few thousand times and you’ve reached the level of expertise where you can rip anything short of a howitzer out of your training partner’s hands.

But a handgun disarm technique requires much more than just nimble fingers and a willing partner. For your disarm to truly be ready for a “gun in your face” encounter, your timing must be dead on.

Unfortunately, while handgun disarm techniques are a dime a dozen in close combat DVD’s these days, one crucial element is often ignored…

…and it’s perhaps the most important step in your disarm technique.

I’m talking about proper TIMING of your disarm of the handgun!

You see, your attacker is already adrenalized when he has the gun aimed on you and 90% of the time, his brain is focused on his weapon and you as the “target”. In this state of mind, one stupid move from you can mean a quick pull on the trigger, either on purpose or as a flinch response to your sudden movement.

Sure it helps to be quick and get your body out of the line of fire. But to effectively pull off a handgun disarm, you MUST time your movement when his brain is NOT focused on the trigger.

To accomplish this, your attacker’s brain must be disengaged from his trigger finger. In psychological terms, it’s called a “break state”, a momentary mental “hiccup” that happens when his brain is subconsciously distracted.

For you in your disarm attempt, there are two very prominent times when your attacker is in a break state during a holdup or hostage encounter…

…but only ONE of these offers you a critical opportunity to disarm his handgun and turn the tables.

Here are your options…and the winner:

Handgun Disarm “Break State” #1: When He Is Giving You Orders

When your attacker is giving you an order to do something, his brain is momentarily focused on communicating those directions.

At that point, he is much less likely to pull the trigger because his brain must first re-​​engage with the intention of shooting. This may only take a fraction of a second, but in a handgun disarm, fractions of seconds can mean life or death!

However, this break state is NOT the best opportunity to disarm a man with a pistol.


Because many people, and especially a nervous thug armed with a gun, give directions with their hands. So even though he’s in a break state when motioning you to move from one location to the other, he may be using the gun to point you in the direction he wants you to move.

If you were to make your disarm attempt while he’s giving you directions, it’s probable that the gun will be in motion and you’re more likely to miss your target when you reach out to disarm the pistol.

However, there IS a better option…

Handgun Disarm “Break State” #2: AFTER He’s Given You Orders

When your attacker has given you an order or asked you to move, his brain is even MORE focused on making sure that you’re following directions. This is an even more powerful break state because your movement is something only you control so his brain has to process your response, whether it’s the one he wanted you to make, and whether he needs to give you further orders.

THIS is the most opportune time for you to make your move and snatch the gun away!

Here’s why…

1. Since your attacker isn’t the one giving direction, he’s instead focused on your own movement, he’s less likely to have the gun in motion.

A stable handgun gives you a static “target” to aim for in your disarm move and increases your probability of success.

2. If you’re asked to move, he’s EXPECTING your body to be in motion. Therefore, your lightening quick disarm is more likely to catch him off guard because your movement was actually something he asked you to do in the first place.

3. It allows you the opportunity to TALK to your attacker. When you’re communicating with him, his brain’s focus is again taken off of the trigger and your disarm is much harder to detect. This is even more likely if you’re in movement and talking at the same time, like asking, “You mean move over here?”

So in your handgun disarm training, don’t just practice the disarm move itself. Train with realistic hostage-​​like scenarios to also practice creating mental break states in your attacker to perfect the entire handgun disarm technique.



  1. Yikes, pretty dangerous, but closing the distance is critical. Playing dumb and fumbling with your wallet or keys is a good way to distract him. Just act really stupid and slowly take a step towards him while pulling your wallet out and clumsily drop it.

    Then grabbing his arm like you showed and possibly a quick kick to the knee like they do often in Wing Chun will neutralize him.

  2. Zack says:

    I’ve always imagined being caught helpless during a situation like this and i’ve been trying to figure out in my head how to disarm. Thanks to this article! But seriously, anyone who has a gun should go under a criminal record check. Guns are just so tempting to use in the wrong way.

  3. mickel says:

    question…I\‘ve seen lots of handgun disarms being taught to people…I have seen lots of these disarms on semi auto guns…is it possible to grab a semi auto around the slide and keep control of it when it goes off? I have been told it\‘s not possible to hold on to the gun and keep the slide from going back and tearing your hands apart…thus making successful disarm impossible.…any thoughts?

    • Jay says:

      Mickel, the trick to what you\‘re referring to is having control of the slide. When you grip the pistol, you have to grab it at an angle so that when you squeeze the slide, it moves the slide back partially rendering the striking pin useless. They can pull the trigger all they want to but the firearm will not discharge, thus the slide will not cycle and tear your hand to pieces. It\‘s a little risky, but very effective at neutralizing the firearm its self. As long as you have a death grip on the slide and it\‘s back just enough to disengage the firing pin, you then render the trigger and the firearm useless.

  4. ret-Navy-Seal says:

    Want to know how to disarm someone while at gunpoint? First of all, take all this information you just read and forget it. You can\‘t just read a blog and all of a sudden be a Black Belt. it requires years of training. 99% of people who think they can do it after reading this are going to end up with a bullet wound. Like I said, it takes years of martial arts training… once your as fast as this guy — bitly​.com/​I​m​w​HN1 I\‘d say you\‘re ready :)

    • Jeff Anderson says:

      I\‘m not sure where you got the impression that this was a 3-​​minute black belt lesson. Of course there\‘s more to disarming a handgun than what\‘s covered in this blog post and common sense would allow anyone to see this.

      However, this post and video do cover an aspect of handgun disarms that most people — even experienced martial artists — don\‘t \“get\”. Timing your move is absolutely critical to ending with the gun in your hands and not your attackers. The funny thing is, the link you\‘ve provided as an example of what TO do actually proves the entire point of this blog post.

      Here\‘s the link you provided again: http://bitly​.com/​I​m​w​HN1

      Only this time, when you watch it, notice WHEN this person performed the disarm. Was he fast? Yes. But what\‘s more important is that he did the disarm when he was talking and moving so the \“attacker\‘s\” brain wasn\‘t focused on the weapon. Sound familiar? If not, watch my blog post video again and you\‘ll have an \“ah-​​ha\” moment.

      I also have to disagree with you about it taking years of training to perform a handgun disarm. That\‘s a fallacy. It takes no time at all to learn the mechanics of how to disarm a handgun and with just a little bit of practice (like 15 minutes), you can become very proficient. Of course practice makes perfect and continued training will make you better…but years of training? Nope.

      You can respectfully disagree with what I just said, but anyone who has taken a single handgun disarm class from a credible combatives seminar (or even just practicing with a buddy after watching a DVD) knows that it doesn\‘t take years of training to master. But don\‘t discount the need for other elements of the handgun disarm — like timing your move — in being successful.

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Jeff Anderson

Jeff Anderson is a 10 year veteran of the U.S. Army, a Master Fitness Trainer, and Master Instructor of Close Quarters Combat self defense. A full time fitness and self defense author, Jeff has trained thousands of men and women in the practical application of advanced military fitness methods as well as close combat tactics for "real life" self defense.

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