Deadly Force Aftermath: A Conversation With Dr. Alexis Artwohl

20130130-074252.jpgAlexis Artwohl, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized behavioral science consultant to law enforcement as a trainer, researcher, and author. During her 16 years as a private practice clinical and police psychologist, she provided consultation and training to multiple agencies throughout the Pacific Northwest, as well as traumatic incident debriefings and psychotherapy to numerous public safety personnel and their family members. Dr. Artwohl is co-author of the book DEADLY FORCE ENCOUNTERS and other publications.

It was my great pleasure to talk with Dr. Artwohl recently about the lessons armed citizens can learn from her research and how they can better prepare themselves for the emotional and legal aftermath of a lethal force encounter.

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Experience, Mindfulness and Gun Safety

GALs1159_zps256b745aI was at the range all day Saturday, teaching in the women’s shooting program that our range runs. The program began as a quarterly thing with 20 or so shooters, and has now grown to a monthly event with many more students, many more instructors and a long waiting list.

I was there, and teaching, despite the fact that I’d been sick all week and my throat was raw. It didn’t hurt too much, but when I talked it sounded roughly like someone had stepped on a bullfrog. Oh, well.

One thing I’ve noticed as that as we’ve been doing these clinics, we’ve gotten better at it, and things went much more smoothly this time. I did, however, notice one thing I wanted to talk about today, and it’s a lesson which goes right to the heart of Safely Rule #1.

The lesson is simply this: Just because you’re holding a blue gun, a SIRT pistol, or a gun with a training barrel doesn’t mean you get a free pass on where your muzzle is pointing.

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Care and Feeding of Folding Knives

20130124-185132.jpgWe depend on our equipment – our knives, guns, flashlights and other tools – to help us stay safe. Our brains and our awareness are our true weapons, of course, but we humans are a tool-using species and there’s no question our tools are important aids. That’s why it’s so important to keep them in tip-top working order.

Some of us throw these tools into our pockets, toss them on our shelves and headboards at the end of the day, and don’t give them a second thought. But is this really how we should treat the tools upon which we may have to depend our lives?

Here are some tips for keeping your folding knives in working order so they’ll be there when you need them:

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“Mommy, Why Do You Have a Gun?”

20130120-125837.jpgMWaG Facebook fan Dana Edwards Stallings asked a question yesterday that I’ve been meaning to talk about here. She wrote:

Any recommended articles on how to approach CC with my toddlers? I believe in an open, honest policy with my girls (ages 2.5 & 4) but I’m curious as to what Mom With a Gun recommends when they see mom carrying?

As it happens, I’ve been discussing this topic recently with a friend who’s the mom of three small kids and a new shooter and gun owner. So I have a few general thoughts, but I’m also thinking about going into some of these areas in more depth. If this is something you’d be interested in exploring more deeply, please let me know in the comments.

In no particular order, then, here are a few of my initial thoughts about making the choice to employ armed self-defense with little ones.

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On Instruction and Risk Management

1156423_19045308If you’ve taken training classes, or spent much time at a range, you’ve doubtless seen instructors – or gun owners who are teaching newbie shooters but who aren’t actually trained instructors – do stupid and potentially dangerous things. I know I have.

I’ve seen people pointing muzzles at themselves or putting their hands in front of the end of the gun. I’ve been swept with the muzzle of a gun in a training class. I’ve seen negligent and unintentional discharges that ended up in the berm rather than the shooter’s leg because of accident more than intent. I’ve seen guns malfunction in potentially dangerous ways, including an AR-15 with a malfunctioning trigger group; bumping the trigger while the safety was on would cause a round to discharge when the safety was subsequently disengaged.

I get it – accidents happen, and novice shooters don’t always have the experience and knowledge to know what’s safe and what’s dangerous. But I’ve also seen instructors who do careless, stupid, or even outright reckless things with guns and think that, because they’re the teacher, the safety rules don’t apply to them.

This is my public service announcement to you: Get with the program. You are responsible for your students’ safety, and for managing the level of risk they face. If one of your students shoots themselves, or someone else, saying “they didn’t follow the safety rules; it’s not my fault” isn’t going to be nearly good enough.

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Group Tactics in Public

20130114-182245.jpgI felt my friend C.’s hand brush against my hip and across the handle of the knife I had clipped there. “Just making sure I could reach it too,” she said. “You see him…at your four o’clock?” I nodded, my eyes tracking him, unsurprised that she’d noticed him too. The newcomer was young, dressed in a dirty jacket and jeans. But it was the way he moved, and the way he stared at everyone female in the restaurant, that had set off my alarm bells.

We were at a a fast food restaurant on the way home from the range after Ladies Night, and had decided to get a drink and a snack. The man C. and I were now watching sat perched on the edge of a table near the door. His body was never still, his eyes scanning in a hungry, desperate way. His movements were jerky and awkward. If I had to guess, he was either mentally ill, high, or up to trouble. Maybe all three.

A moment later, he leapt up and bolted out the door. I thought I saw him stop behind a concrete garbage can just outside the door, but a glare on the window made visibility hard. The third member of our group sipped her coffee, oblivious to the stranger’s actions and to the whispered conversation between C. and I. “Let’s get out of here,” I murmured. C. nodded agreement. “D. in the middle,” she said. “You take rear, since you’re armed and I’m not.” She turned to D. “Let’s get out of here.”

We stood and made our way to the car. The stranger was there, behind the garbage can, and his eyes fixated on us as soon as we got outside. C. and I both made eye contact with him, and something in our expressions made him hesitate. It was all the opening we needed to get past him and to the car. C. watched the man while I unlocked the car and D. and I got in. Once we were inside, I locked the door and we left without incident.

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Buying Little Guns

20130112-223457.jpgAs those of you who follow me on Facebook know, I was at a Ladies Night event at my local range today. Two female friends of mine decided to go with me, and one of them wanted to show off a new gun her husband had bought her recently.

“D. said ‘It’s so cute!'” my other friend reported she’d said. I smiled, but inwardly I had a sneaking suspicion about what was coming. “D. said she wants you to look at it before she shoots it, because her husband got it used, and she also wants to know how to clean it and what kind of ammo to get.” I promised I’d take a look before the Ladies Night.

When we gathered at the appointed time to drive up to the range, D. produced a cardboard box. Carefully she opened it up and removed her new firearm. “See, it’s cute!” she said with a smile, handing it to me.

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A Conversation About School Violence

20130110-125219.jpgIn recent days the politicians have been calling for a “conversation” on school violence and gun control. Apart from the fact that a one-sided lecture isn’t the same as a conversation, I personally find it a little odd that the people most affected by the issue of school violence and mass killings in schools don’t have a voice in the conversation.

So, I decided to have a conversation about school violence with my nearest subject matter expert. I’ve talked before about my daughter, “Nutmeg”, but for the newcomers, she’s seventeen years old and attends a special school program that provides her extra supports with emotional and behavioral challenges caused by past trauma in her birth family. (Before you start screaming about her privacy, she read this post before I made it and doesn’t object to what I’ve said here.)

We talked while out running errands today, and the conversation went something like this – I’ve tried to reproduce the flavor of how she talks as faithfully as I can:

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Safety in Numbers?

777060_28725674There’s a persistent myth in our society that “there’s safety in numbers”. “Go out in a group”, conventional wisdom tells us. “There’s danger in being alone,” it says. Conventional wisdom left out an important caveat, though: Just like being alone, there’s only safety in a group when the group is alert, oriented to and aware of its surroundings. Otherwise, the only thing being in a group does is to create a bigger pool of ready victims for the predator.

In fact, that’s sort of the origin of the expression “safety in numbers”. Think about a school of trout swimming upstream. Without warning, a bear plunges his hungry maw into the water and snatches up three fish. There are a zillion trout in the school, so the odds of the bear taking any particular fish are pretty low. Add more fish, and the individual risk of being selected drops slightly more. But this is no comfort for the three trout who – because of inattention, age, infirmity, or just plain bad luck – landed in the bear’s mouth.

So, how can we increase our odds of staying safe when we’re out in a group? Here are some suggestions:

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Of Skills Drills and Negligent Discharges

20130105-204706.jpgDon’t worry, the negligent discharge wasn’t mine…but it brought home a lesson I had underscored at the range today.

As those who follow my page on Facebook know, I shot the IDPA Classifier today for the first time. (Side note: If you aren’t following me on Facebook, I invite you to join the discussion there; I share lots of stuff that isn’t large enough to warrant its own blog post.) For those who don’t do IDPA, the Classifier is a standardized 90-round course of fire that tests many of the common skills needed to compete in IDPA: drawing and re-holstering, shooting on the move, shooting from behind cover, and reloading your firearm quickly. Whether IDPA skills translate to real-world lethal force defensive encounters is a subject of perennial debate, but in my view of things, anything that makes you more accurate and confident in your gun handling skills is a good thing.

In any event, I had a great time, and came home from the range with a bunch of lessons, both good and bad, bouncing around in my head.

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