More Than Just Self Defense

The students in my basic pistol classes are usually too overwhelmed with new information to ask many questions, but I often get good ones from the intermediate and conceal carry students. This last week I got an exceptional one, and it caused me to consider rewriting a part of my book.

We had been going over situational awareness, and she asked if I had any suggestions, beyond the exercises in the book, to help practice for that. We discussed some, and then went on with how that could contribute a lot to other areas of our lives, giving us both the motive and opportunity to actually practice it all the time.

The implications for self defense are important, obviously, so that we may be aware of danger as early as possible and can avoid it or respond otherwise as appropriate. We agreed that it was very important to teach this to children early, since they are even more vulnerable.

So, in what other ways would the constant practice of situational awareness benefit us and those around us?

We can become much better, safer drivers. Now this might seem contradictory a little, since distraction is a major cause of accidents and we are proposing to be aware of a great deal more than we might otherwise be, but if we integrate that awareness into other safe driving habits, consciously weeding out the irrelevant things that are so often distractions, it only seems logical that we become a better driver. We train ourselves to observe what we see around us, the actions of other vehicles and pedestrians, and assess them for potential problems. We also would be thinking of simple plans to avoid problems. The key is to be aware and prepared, rather than surprised when danger strikes.

By the same token, we become much safer pedestrians.

We can become better shoppers. I had not thought about this before, but it seems clear. If we are practicing being aware of our surroundings, why would that not extend to examining, assessing and evaluating the things we propose to purchase? Did you ever get home with a rotten potato in the bottom of the bag? Did you determine to lift the bag and LOOK for one next time? Cracked eggs? Out of date milk? Dented cans? A tear in a shirt, or a missing hook on a boot after you got the items home? I’ve done them all at one time or another, but I’ve done that far less often since I began to practice awareness… and I wasn’t even thinking about it that way. It was just a part of the whole process.

Might we not become far better friends and neighbors? Before I began to carry a gun, I could not have told you much about the normal happenings in my neighborhood to save my life. I literally was not paying attention. After several years, and consciously practicing the drills, I can actually look out my windows and  spot a car, truck or person that doesn’t “belong” because I’ve invested the time and effort to know who and what does belong.  That doesn’t mean the stranger is up to no good, obviously, but they are worth a second or even a third glance. If I see a stranger hanging around, with no evident purpose, I’ll watch even more closely. And my neighbors commonly do the same now since I suggested it to them years ago. I live alone, and one neighbor has called me many times when strangers drive up here, just to be sure I’m OK.

Now, some people might not appreciate that part, and in a crowded neighborhood it would be impractical, but it works out well here. Another neighbor called once this summer to let me know my sneaky horses had gotten out on the other side of my property. I would not have known about it until I went out to feed otherwise, and they might have gotten into real trouble by then. So the exercise of awareness can help to build safer and more friendly neighborhoods.

Obviously, you don’t want to become a nosy parker, and interventions like the phone calls would be reserved for serious situations or questions, but the very practice of observing and assessing is what is most important for your own development and safety.

We came up with a good list, I think, but I would be very glad to get your feedback so I can add as many practical suggestions as possible to my teaching material. How would you go about expanding your own practice of situational awareness, and how do you think it would it affect your family, neighborhood and safety? What might be a downside or problem with those listed here?

[The book, “I Am NOT A Victim” is still available free to anyone who sends me an email and asks for it. Please let me know where you saw the offer. I am sending it only in pdf format now, so if you can’t open a pdf document for some reason, or would just rather have something else, let me know that too.]

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

Boy killed by stray bullet fired in celebration of July 4
(The Raw Story)

Police in Chesterfield County Virginia are seeking information that could lead to the arrest of whoever fired a shot into the air that struck and killed 7-year-old Brendon Mackey on July 4. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the boy was walking with his father in a parking lot when he abruptly fell to the ground lifeless.

Every year we read about such tragic events, and while gun owners and even some experts don’t always agree on the details, this is a very even handed description of what happens when a bullet is fired straight up into the air.

It seems obvious, however, that most bullets fired into the air, for whatever reason, are NOT aimed straight up. I would imagine that most people shooting this way take at least some care to aim away from people and buildings they can SEE, but they quite obviously do not understand the speed and trajectory of the bullet. They are obviously not thinking about the person or object that may be on the other end of that trajectory. Most importantly, however, they have chosen to ignore one of the absolutely imperative rules for safe gun handling.

ALWAYS point the gun in a safe direction. KNOW your target, and what is behind it.

You are always responsible for every single bullet that fires from your gun. Every bullet fired has to go somewhere. It WILL hit something. You are responsible for what it hits. You remain responsible if you “didn’t know,” or if you did not intend to fire the gun at all. So, firing a gun into the air, with zero idea where the bullet will land or what it will hit is not an “accident” in any rational sense of the word. An accident is an event that happens without intention, and without any reasonable warning. It is something unforeseen and, often, unavoidable. A great many things that are called “accidents” are truly incidents of negligence, by one or more people.

So, while the actual chance of killing someone is probably very low, the very act of firing a gun into the air, without a clear target and knowledge of where that bullet will land, is simply criminal negligence whether you hit the side of a building or kill someone’s prize bull. If your bullet kills a person, you are guilty of at least manslaughter. I can’t imagine any “celebration” being worth taking that chance.

Those who truly care about safety, and their reputation as responsible, rational people need to take the one step necessary to avoid this negligence. Don’t shoot your guns into the air.

 

What is Your Mission?

Suppose you arrive home and notice your door ajar. You might even hear noises inside, or – God forbid, the screams of a loved one who’s been taken hostage or is being harmed by the bad guys. Do you grab your gun and go looking for the criminals, or do you retreat to safety and call 9-1-1?

Kathy Jackson had a great post about the subject of house clearing over at the Cornered Cat blog today. Although I’ve written here before about the limits of our training as armed citizens, and about why we shouldn’t go looking for intruders on our own if we can at all help it, I wanted to revisit the subject in light of Kathy’s post.

Kathy wrote, in part:

The idea of staying out of unnecessary danger didn’t sit well with the tactical crowd. Many wanted to immediately rush in and “clear the house,” playing hide-n-seek with a potential intruder. Some people feel that calling the authorities would mean they were too wimpy to take care of their own homes, and many didn’t (and don’t) realize they could literally die of embarrassment if they let their fear of social awkwardness dictate their actions.

You should definitely visit her post, which includes a great description of how the police respond to a 9-1-1 call for possible intruders in a home – and why an armed citizen shouldn’t attempt alone what the professionals do with special training, equipment, and backup. I want to talk about the subject from a different direction, and discuss why trying to clear your house by yourself may be a bad idea in that light.

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Studying the Cop Killers

Greg Ellifretz over at Active Response Training had a great post today analyzing the 2011 FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) report. The LEOKA report, which I was not previously aware of, compiles stats and case studies of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, as well as stats about assaults on cops.

Greg’s post does a great job of breaking down the statistics, so I strongly encourage you to read his post. I wanted to talk about one specific case study from the piece of the report which summarizes the circumstances of each officer who was killed, and about some lessons we can learn from it.

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The Bad Guys Train. Do You?

Have you ever said to yourself the words “I can’t afford to get training”? How about “Why do I need to train – I shoot well enough?” Are you the sort of gun owner who puts 50 rounds downrange once in a while and calls it good?

If any of this sounds like you, I have a news flash for you: You’re betting your life on your opponent (ie, the violent criminals) being less well trained than you are. And that is a bet you will almost certainly lose.

I came across a fascinating, but terrifying, piece of literature today. It’s a report, published biannually by the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center. The most recent version of the National Gang Threat Assessment (NGTA), prepared in 2011, comes in a freely downloadable PDF file of some 100 pages. If you take to heart the lesson that you should “know your enemy”, this is probably some of the best intel you can get your hands on.

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Danger Signs

“Be aware of your surroundings.” It’s the first thing taught in every self-defense class I’ve ever attended. One of the most common pieces of advice dished out to those looking to protect themselves. And it’s good advice, so far as it goes.

What’s missing, though, from the all-too-frequent repetition of this advice, is any guidance about what we should be aware of. Without knowing what we should be watching for, what behaviors should trigger our Condition Red awareness, knowing that we need to “be aware” is empty advice. It sounds good, but standing alone, it helps us not at all.

I certainly learned this lesson in spades during my own encounters with violent predators. Operating without the benefit of any understanding of criminal behavior and victimology, I equated “be aware” with the sort of reflexive “stranger danger!” conditioning that was so popular when I was growing up, back in a time before society fully realized that the most likely threats were people we knew. But the predators that found me weren’t strangers, and I didn’t realize until much too late the dangerous hole in my knowledge.

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Criminals Don’t Think Like You

I was listening to the latest of Ben Branam’s Modern Self-Protection podcast today, and wanted to underline something Ben talks about that’s important to understanding how to respond to a violent attack: The criminals don’t think the way you do.

When we try to imagine what a criminal will do, and how we can respond to it, it’s only natural to think about what we would do in a similar situation. People tell us “talk about yourself to make the criminal empathize with you”, or “give him what we wants and he won’t hurt you.” I’ve heard some people tell rape victims to urinate or vomit on their attackers. These seem like natural suggestions on the surface. After all, we don’t deliberately hurt people we care about. We don’t deliberately hurt people who give us what we want. We find throwing up a turn-off. If that’s how we would feel, that’s how the criminal would feel too. Right?

Wrong. What would work on us if we were criminals doesn’t work on actual criminals, because actual criminals don’t think the way we do. This is the gap between “the reality of violence” and “the fantasy of violence” that Rory Miller talks about, and wrapping our heads around it is hugely important if we want to stay safe.

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“Stop-n-Rob” Safety, and Risk Assessment

Ben Branam at Modern Self-Protection has a great post up about avoiding robbery at convenience stores, which he refers to as “Stop-n-Robs”. This is not far from the truth – “convenience store worker” is consistently among the more dangerous jobs out there. Especially for night shift workers. I know a woman who used to work in such a place who was raped and stabbed by a would-be robber early one morning. Robberies are commonplace, and I know of at least one shooting locally that took place in such a store.

I especially liked Ben’s suggestion to play the “what-if” game.He explains:
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Where Do You Draw the Line?

Over at Active Response Training, Greg Ellifritz has a terrific post today about where we draw the line in terms of decisions we might make in the face of a violent crime. Do we hand over our wallet? Our car? Our clothes? Our children?

These are decisions we should think about ahead of time, because prior thought and planning displaces the “fight/flight/freeze” response that arises from circumstances catching us off-guard.

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Do You Know Your Enemy?

Over at USConcealedCarry.com, there’s a fascinating post today by Greg Ellifritz. Greg is the tactical training officer for a police department in the midwest, and also blogs over at Active Response Training, where he’s the president and primary instructor. (If you aren’t following Greg’s blog yet, add it to your RSS feed now. I’ll wait.)

Greg quoted in his post from Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, who wrote that “if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.” For serious students of self-defense and personal safety, Greg argues convincingly, that means understanding as much as you can about criminal behavior, criminal tactics, and how to respond to those tactics. Are you studying this topic in as much depth as you’re studying to improve your own skills? Military and law enforcement units train extensively on the tactics their opponents use and how to counter them. If you’re serious about safeguarding your own life and the lives of your loved ones, this is critical information.

Anyway, Greg decided, as part of this study, to examine and gather data about the firearms seized by his police department from criminals. He looked at 85 such weapons, and gathered statistics about them. And what he found may surprise you. It surely surprised me, and (since I’m also a mystery writer) I do a lot of reading about criminal behavior.

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