Feeling Safe vs. Being Safe

Mike over at Stately McDaniel Manor had a post this morning about an interaction he had with the owner of a local movie theater who’d chosen to post a “no guns” sign. For those who don’t know him, Mike is retired military and a retired cop whose duties included SWAT operations – in other words, precisely the kind of guy you’d think citizens would want to have their back. And when Mike wrote his letter to the theater owner, that’s essentially what he said. The theater owner’s response was less than enthusiastic, as Mike reports:

His return letter was less civil and kind and all but accused me of being the problem because obviously, I was one of those gun nuts who endanger the pubic and whose very existence causes violence. The only rational and moral stance against such maniacs was the establishment of gun free zones so theater patrons could feel safe. My presence, you see would actually endanger everyone.

This seems to be a surprisingly common attitude among those opposed to an armed citizenry, and while I’d encourage you to read Mike’s comments, I wanted to add in my own thoughts.

As the mother of a teenager who’s about to become a young adult and go off into the world on her own, it would be lovely to delude myself into feeling safe. I’d surely sleep better at night if I could believe that there are no monsters in the world, that she’ll never have to face danger firsthand, and that posting signs banning weapons everywhere would keep her safe. An imaginary utopia is a lot more mentally comforting than the reality that we live in a world populated by predators, and that we are their prey. The delusion of safety, the feeling that banning the lawful carry of weapons makes us safer, is surely a comforting one, and this is why some cling so strongly to it.

But, you see, I don’t have the luxury of that delusion. I can’t talk myself into thinking that merely posting signs and passing laws will make us safe. I’ve been face-to-face with the predators, more than once. I know that sickeningly, excruciatingly, unbearably helpless feeling when you realize that you have no control over what is happening to your property, your body, your life, and that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop what is about to happen to you. I know that you can’t spot evil in the crowd, and that the predators are willing to break the law. If you’re willing to commit robbery, assault, rape and murder, are a few gun laws really going to stop you?

One common thread in the times I was attacked was that the incidents took place in locations that were supposedly safe, and where weapons were prohibited. A summer camp. A college dorm room. A well-trafficked California street in a county where concealed carry is effectively impossible. These were all places where, if the anti-gun crowd is right, I should have felt safe. More to the point, they were places where the anti-gun rhetoric tells me I should have been safe. And I wasn’t. In fact, I was about as far from safe as I think I could have gotten without being dead.

See, here’s the thing: The point of armed self-defense, of having a gun/knife/baton/whatever and the training to use it effectively, is to give you options. If I have the tools and the training, I might be able to create the time and space to escape. I might be able to call for help and buy myself time until the police can respond. I might be able to fight off my attacker, even kill if necessary to safeguard my life. Sure, I might choose – in a given tactical situation – to submit. I might hand over my purse while making a plan to flee to safety or fight back if the robber continues to pursue me. I might cooperate with a criminal while continuing to look for an opportunity to escape or resist, if my in-the-moment judgment is that temporary compliance buys me and any other “friendlies” the best chance of survival. But I have options.

The common thread in each of the attacks I endured was that I was unarmed and the predator, in violation of “the rules” was not unarmed. It doesn’t matter that one monster had a gun and another a knife. They were armed and I wasn’t, and with the disparity of force that comes from the fact they were all bigger, stronger, male, and armed, submission was the only option I had. And I still, years later, pay the emotional and psychological toll of that submission, even as I acknowledge that I made the only choice I could and I survived.

That’s the trouble with feeling safe: By the time you discover your feeling was but an illusion, it’s too late. If you’re lucky, you survive the encounter with violence – battered and scarred, perhaps, but alive. If you’re unlucky, your loved ones will have to attend your funeral and wonder if you might have lived had you been better prepared.

At this point in my life, I feel relatively safe most of the time. But I feel safe precisely because I know that I am acquiring the skills, tools, and training so that, if I have another encounter with violence, I’ll be prepared. I feel safe because I know that I’ll have other options besides submitting to the will of the monsters.

Feeling safe is nice, but being safe is better, and feeling safe because you know how to be safe is best of all.


  1. Dear Tammy:

    Thanks for the mention and the link. Indeed, feeling safe is meaningless unless one has actually done the preparation necessary to make that feeling plausible. For too many, good intentions and feelings are what matter rather than reality.

  2. Sam Anderson says:

    Feelings seem to be the way many are making decisions these days. My example is that while Romney gets more favorable responses relative to the economy in particular, Obama is leading Romney in the polls at this time. The reason given is because people believe Obama is “cool”. Even a conversation with my daughters went that way when they both said “Dad, you have to admit Obama is cooler”. My point is that facts don’t play as an important part of our decision making process as some of us would like to think. Decisions are based on emotions, in other words marketing. Feeling safe, unfortunately, is enough for far too many people.


  1. […] it comes back to the divide between feeling safe and being safe: Taking a potentially dangerous item out of the hands of law-abiding citizens (who, by definition, […]

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