Survival at What Cost?

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I was reading a blog post recently that talked about the gap between the “feel-good” messages some self-defense instructors teach and the on-the-ground reality of violence. There’s lots of goodness there, but I wanted to pick up on one particular lesson today.

The author writes, in part:

…[Y]ou say…that we can prevail, and you’re teaching us stuff that we ought to be able to work, stuff that some of us can do here and now. And I think that’s great, but here there are no consequences to messing it up. If I fumble my joint lock or don’t punch hard enough it won’t mean a difference between life and death. You are telling us nothing about risk avoidance or damage control. You are telling us nothing about how to pick our battles and when to admit defeat. With you it’s just fighting until victory or death.

There’s more there, and I’ll let you read it, but this is the point I’d like to talk about: You can do everything right, practice situationall awareness and avoid going to “stupid places with stupid people” and deploy your unarmed defensive skills and even your weapon. You might do all that and still lose the fight. And you need to be ready for that eventuality, and you need to have made some decisions about that situation ahead of time.

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Force of Habit

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At first, I didn’t even notice I was doing it.

I was in the restroom, getting ready to do…umm, restroom things. The holster my M&P usually rides in (an appendix carry rig from Crossbreed) rides somewhat high on my waistband and, consequently, has a tendency to flip over my belt when I undo my jeans. So I’ve gotten into the habit of grabbing it with one hand, lest it dump my gun out onto the floor at an inopportune time.

But the other day, while doing the dance of clothing and gun belt, I noticed something interesting. When I’d taken hold of my gun, my right index finger had – without conscious thought – settled on the top of my belt, holster, and jeans, extended straight out just as as it would have lain along the side of the frame were my pistol in my hand. The habit I’d drilled into myself, the one I drill into those I teach, held firm even with a holstered gun. “Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you’re ready to fire,” the little voice inside my head said, and automatically my muscles moved to obey.

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Altered Perceptions

It wasn’t until much later that I had time to reflect on the tricks my brain had played. Later, after I’d picked myself up from the ground. After I’d dusted myself off and bandaged the scrape in my elbow. After I’d picked the bits of gravel from the bleeding spot on my left knee. After I’d ascertained that the crying toddler was, in fact, crying from fear and surprise, rather than from injury.

I’d been holding my friend’s daughter while her parents hitched up a travel trailer. It was hot, and she was getting fidgety and restless, and I was concentrating too much on keeping her from wriggling out of my arms and not enough on where I was stepping. And then I put my foot down into a loose patch of sand, and it was all over.

Though I doubt it could have been more than a second or two between when I lost my footing and when we both hit the ground, I remember how slowly it seemed that time was moving. I remember making a conscious decision to tighten my hold on the little girl. I remember making a conscious decision to twist my body around, remember clearly thinking, “you CANNOT land on top of her”. I remember the half-roll I did in the air, a maneuver I could never have normally managed. I remember, just before my left shoulderblade hit the ground, the thought flashed through my head: This is going to hurt, but if you don’t drop Sarah, she’ll be all right.

That curious slowing of time, that stretching of the briefest instant out into what seemed like a much longer interval, is called tachypsychia. If you’re ever in a self-defense situation or other traumatic incident, odds are you’ll experience it too.

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Creatures of Habit

The music in the bar was loud, and the air very cold. It was crowded, and the lights strobed in dizzying flashes of red and blue. I’d love to be able to claim these factors disoriented me, clouded my judgment and slow my reflexes. I’d love to be able to say that, because of them, I wasn’t in my right mind, that my faculties had temporarily deserted me.

I’d love to be able to fall back on those excuses for why I didn’t respond more immediately and forcefully when the man who reeked of sweat and stale beer got far too close to me. I’d love to use them to explain why I didn’t say “no”, clearly and unequivocally, when he touched the back of my hand. I’d love to rationalize away all the reasons why it wasn’t until his hand had skimmed past my knee and was disappearing under the hem of my skirt before I finally responded.

And why, even then, my response was soft and quiet and meek, all things I try not to be, so that even after that point he followed me around for another hour, right up to the moment that my friends and I left the bar.

I’d love to be able to say that ths encounter took place long ago, back before I had the training and knowledge I do now. Back before I knew better. But I can’t even say that. In truth, the incident I described was appallingly recently, and I’ve done a lot of thinking since about lessons (re-)learned, and about why I responded the way I did. And why you might respond that way, too, even though you too know better.

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Making the Choice Not to Carry

1070609_65995437On a recent trip to Seattle for business, I had a chance to have lunch with the inimitable Kathy Jackson. As you might imagine, our conversation touched on all sorts of topics, including armed self-defense. At one point, I commented about how I think it’s important to encourage other women to become responsible for their own safety, but that it’s also important to let women come to that decision on their own and not be pushy about it.

Kathy said something which surprised me, but which on reflection I totally agree with. “I’d go farther than that,” she replied, “and say that I think it’s irresponsible to pressure women into making that decision.”

Though we didn’t talk in depth about Kathy’s reasons for feeling that way, I’d like to talk about the reasons why I wholeheartedly agree with her sentiment.

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Preparing for Self Defense – The Next Steps

We’ve talked about why a person needs to defend themselves, and more recently we’ve covered quite a bit about gear and dry fire exercises. But there is so much more.

Those who own a gun, and especially those who carry it for self defense, need to do at least the minimum necessary to develop and keep skills relevant. A comprehensive class and no less than one range session a month is seriously minimal, but I doubt many even go that far.

Owning a gun makes you ready for self defense about as much as owning a horse makes you a cowboy.

First, have you made up your mind that you WILL survive, that you WILL fight as long as you can breathe, and that you can and WILL do whatever is necessary to the criminal in order to stop the attack. Have you decided that you are NOT a victim?

No matter how well (or how often) you shoot at targets, your gun will be of little or no use to you if you don’t develop the other skills needed for self defense. If the bad guy gets his hands on you, gets close with a gun or other weapon, or grabs your children… you have lost any advantage the hardware might have given you.

Tactical training is another step in learning gun handling. You get a physical work out, and a much better idea what it is like to be in a shooting situation. The ideal tactical training would include possible situations in your home, office, shopping and other aspects of daily life. I’ve only been to one such session and, I’m afraid it was more geared to things MEN and cops might encounter and wasn’t too helpful to me. So I had to come up with my own. In any case, few of us could afford either the time or money to attend one of these expanded classes very often, yet the skills are no less perishable than shooting accuracy. They need to be practiced at least some every day or as often as possible. So, even if you enjoy such classes and participate often, you might want to consider this practice on your own.

Are you ready?

Situational awareness

Are you aware of your surroundings every day, every time you hear a knock on the door, and especially every time you leave the house? Have you taught your children and others about this vital skill? Or is it simply an intellectual acceptance of an idea, but not something you practice seriously? I’ve covered the subject in detail at the link. Take some time to read it and come back.

First do the drills outlined in the Situational Awareness instructions above for a while. This will give you the basic idea and some experience doing this kind of drill as you go through your ordinary daily activities. As good as a “tactical class” might be, and as terrific as it is to go to the range, real life attacks will be very, very different… they will come out of the blue, when you least expect it, and while you are doing other things. So, it makes sense to prepare, to practice your responses WHILE you are going about your everyday life. And, since you are not apt to get much warning under the best of circumstances, you need to be prepared with as many options as possible.

Possible home invasion is probably a good place to start. You are familiar with your home, its strengths and weaknesses. You are comfortable there, and the actions of an intruder and others who might be involved are easier to imagine than they would be most anywhere else. It’s a learning process, so take it slow and build as you go along.

Think about the power of visualization.

Can you remember the dress you wore to your first Prom, your wedding, or other memorable occasion? Can you remember what you did or didn’t do? If you made a major goof or were embarrassed, I suspect you remember it and all the moves you made very well. And, if you think about it, your mind uses those memories to help you avoid similar negative experiences later.

You can use the power of your mind, the very real benefits of your imagination and memory, to prepare yourself for self defense situations. It is important to plan this some, to avoid becoming obsessed or paranoid about it, of course, but it can be used as a very effective training aid.

So, think about the way your house is laid out, access points, physical barriers and any cameras, alarms or other security measures you have. Oh, you were not thinking that they could do the job alone, were you? Time to rethink all of those things if you’ve been counting on them to keep you safe without having to be a vital part of the whole. These things can be very good, but are no earthly use without serious human involvement. And, as with all tools, they may fail. It’s important to have a backup plan, and a backup plan for that one.

Start with an easy one. Just imagine that you hear glass breaking in the back of your house. You are home alone, it is night, and you don’t expect anyone to come until morning.

What now?

Do you have a “safe room?” (Send for my book if you don’t know what that means.)

Briefly, a “safe room” is one with a reinforced door and deadbolt locks that would resist an intruder.There should be something solid and heavy you would stay behind, in case the intruder fired a gun into the door or the lock.

In that room, quite possibly your bedroom, you would have a gun (if you don’t carry it), ammunition, a cell phone, some water and other things that might be needed if you had to stay there a while. You might want to have a spare gun and ammunition in that room, even if you carry all the time.

If you don’t have a safe room, and can’t think of any way to create one, what would you do if you saw or heard signs of an intruder?

Either way, imagine what an intruder might do. You also need to think of what you might do in each case, his possible reaction, and what you might do next. What might he do that would cause you to shoot? Why wouldn’t you shoot? What would make the difference? You absolutely must have thought about this and practiced it. A mistake in the midst of an emergency could be costly, or fatal.

What would you do next? Imagine it going many different ways, concentrating on what you think might happen and how you might respond. And don’t neglect to imagine that you had to shoot someone! How would it look? How would you feel? It’s a shock and horror to any normal person, but you can’t let it destroy your awareness or your caution. The person you shot might be “playing possum” and overwhelm you if you got too close. He/she might have an accomplice or four, just waiting for you to be distracted and overcome with emotion.

And don’t lose sight of the fact that your attacker could be either a man or a woman, a teen or any other age. Imagine having to confront and defend yourself against even the nice seeming neighbor down the street, the little group of teens with their baggy pants and snotty attitudes, the lady who says she just needs to use the telephone, or almost anyone else.

Do you have a cell phone? Where is it right now? Do you carry it in your purse? Is the purse in the kitchen now? Where might an intruder gain entrance? The kitchen? That plan needs some work, doesn’t it? When would you call 911? Most areas are set up for 911, but some still are not. Do you know for sure about your location?

I don’t have a cell phone (too deaf to use one), and an intruder might cut the land line telephone first thing. I have specific plans made for that possibility. I don’t rely on getting help from outside anyway, and calling 911 FIRST is not something expected here, but it may be very different where you live.

Then, if it was possible, when would you call? What would you say to the dispatcher? Should you tell them you have a gun? The answer to all of those might be very different in various places. You need to know what is best to do long before you need to do it. And you need to practice doing it so you won’t miss things, do things to increase the risk, or say things that would hang you later.

Think about why TV and movie plots are a very poor thing to base this practice on.

Next time we’ll take to the streets and parking garages with our imaginations. But you don’t have to wait for me. Tell me about the imaging you do to prepare for self defense.

MamaLiberty – An Introduction

If you’ve been reading Mom With A Gun long, you probably already have a fair idea who I am, but just in case… it seemed like a good idea to write some sort of bio so you’d know better where I’m coming from.

For thirty years I worked in So. Calif. as an RN, the last 14 years in hospice as an advanced practice nurse. I drove and walked the mean streets of San Bernardino, Riverside, and large parts of Los Angeles counties visiting patients in their homes, as well as in skilled nursing facilities. All those years I had nothing to defend myself with except situational awareness and whatever good will my profession generated among the residents of those areas. I got into more than a few really scary situations, but good luck and the good Lord managed to keep me alive all through it.

Would I have been better off if I had been able to carry a gun? What might have happened to me and my career if I’d carried one without “permission” and had needed to use it? Who knows? I couldn’t and I didn’t then. If I’d known then what I know now… I might well do things differently, of course, but even the way it was I learned many very valuable lessons that I’ve put to good use. And I’d like to share them.

Those who have not yet seen it might like to read the story of the man I had to shoot to save my life. That is the dedication, first part of the booklet I wrote to supplement my NRA handgun and self defense classes. If you read the story, you’ll see how to write to me to request the book. I hope everyone, and especially every woman, will take the time to read and learn about how I came to understand self defense and the things I do to develop my skills and maintain my survivor’s mindset.

I’d love to explore that with you, and hope you will leave your questions, suggestions or critique in the comments here. What shall we talk about?

Umm, Vice President Biden…?

shotgun_tlcI already knew that Vice President Joe Biden’s recent comments on the relative suitability of Modern Sporting Rifles and double-barreled shotguns were a bit silly. An AR-15 (something around 5.5 foot-pounds of recoil energy) is harder for a woman to shoot than a 12-gauge shotgun (17 up to a staggering 54 foot-pounds of recoil energy, depending on load and gun weight)? Hate to break the bad news, Mr. Biden, but in a contest between politics and physics, Newton’s Second Law wins every time.

But now, I don’t have to fall back on nebulous little trivialities like science. I’ve experienced the difference myself firsthand.

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Awareness and Exertion in the Backcountry

20130304-104540.jpgYes, I admit it: That is my oversized butt hiking up the side of that valley. I spent the weekend backpacking with friends, although we stayed in a campground (of sorts) this time. But we did go for a hike in Sunday morning. It was my first REAL hike, so we did things semi-easily for me: I didn’t carry a pack, and we kept the distance relatively short and the pace relatively slow. We hiked about two miles down the side of a valley, made lunch atop a slab of limestone at a flat spot in the trail, and hiked back. Round trip, including lunch, was maybe four hours.

Notwithstanding all of that, the experience was an eye-opener for me on a number of levels, and I came away from the experience with a number of lessons that I think apply to armed citizens as well as they do to new backpackers.

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Your Most Important Tool

20130218-143007.jpgMy friend and I picked our way carefully down the hillside toward a small clearing. The sun was setting, and the air was becoming chilled. As we walked, our eyes and flashlights swept our surroundings – there were plenty of holes and pieces of fallen brush to trip us up if we weren’t paying attention, and we could hear the first plaintive yips of a pack of coyotes further up the hill. We’d also seen the tracks of a wild pig, and though we’d not caught sight of the animal, we knew it was likely close by.

Between us, we carried some 50 pounds of gear and supplies – warm down-filled sleeping bags, tents, a pair of butane-powered stoves and the fuel canisters that go with them. We each had a half gallon or so of water – plenty for the overnight camp out we’d planned. A gallon Ziploc bag in my pack held an assortment of food – noodles, instant potatoes, dried blueberries, coffee, and more.I had a knife in each of my front pants pockets on this trip; my friend carried two more blades and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. (Six hours after I got home from our trip, she’d call me to report that, while out on a short walk, she’d had to shoot a juvenile rattlesnake that had been inches away from striking.)

But despite what the outdoor products industry would have you believe, the most important tool in our survival arsenal wasn’t our gear, our food, or our water. It wasn’t anything we carried, nor was it something you can buy. But whether you’re facing natural hazards or human ones, it’s absolutely essential.

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