The Element of Surprise

470636_85894802If you are ever the victim of a crime, I can make this prediction with some certainty: Whatever happens will catch you off-guard. You will be taken by surprise, and you will have to move through the reaction loop before you can respond to it.

This news is probably not a surprise, but there are implications to this that bear thinking about. But first, we need to talk about why you won’t be ready for the criminal assault.

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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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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.]

Self Defense or Revenge?

Man Faces Prison for Shooting Carjackers 
A Houston man is facing a pretty severe penalty for defending his property, after shooting and killing one carjacker and wounding another.

He’ll probably be ok under Texas law, but this was clearly not self defense. Since they had the drop on him, he did the smart thing and let them have what they demanded. Now, if he’d been openly armed, they probably would never have approached him, of course. But that’s a separate issue. He may have had no chance to access his gun during the confrontation, though many do… and succeed. He’s the only one who knows what the actual threat was at the time.

Fail on several other counts, however. He let his situational awareness lapse, for a big one. Houston is a big place, and I have no idea what the reputation of that particular area might be, but it’s probably not all that wise to go out alone, in the evening, and not have someone to watch your back.

Shooting up your own car doesn’t really seem like a good idea anyway. I’m assuming he was insured for the loss. Since the criminals already had everything else… what was the point? Revenge alone accounts for it, not self defense.

Now, whether or not he should face any particular penalty for this, I won’t be the judge. He needs to answer to his own community and family for it.

Do you think this was self defense? What would you do?

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.

I Can’t Believe I DID That!

Did you ever walk out of a bathroom and discover later that your holster was empty? OOPS

I’ve only done that twice in all the years I’ve carried a gun, and both times were at home, thank goodness, but it is something to think about seriously, and something to add to our training and conditioning.

But how?

I can’t remember the details of the first time, shortly after I started carrying, but the most recent episode of total dumb was just the other day. I sat down immediately to analyze it and see what I could do to prevent it from happening again. I absolutely, positively refuse to ever let it happen at the library or someone else’s home.

The first problem I could identify was the fact that I’d given up carrying ALL the time last year when I hurt my back. After a bad fall last autumn, the weight of the gun and tightness of the belt was just too difficult to bear all the time. That was about the time I started carrying concealed a lot when I went out, and the CC “fanny pack” just isn’t as heavy or tight as my belt rig. The worst of it was that I stopped carrying either way, pretty much completely, when I was home alone. So, I was simply out of the habit of being aware of the gun at my waist all the time.

Just recently, I got a new gun belt that holds the holster properly and doesn’t need to be so tight, so carrying OC became a lot more comfortable and I went back to it most of the time, including in the house. Now I need to get back into all the habits I’d cemented years ago when I started this.

The second problem can and does happen to us all, no matter how well we train: distractions. I realized that I’d just finished washing my hands when the phone rang. I went out to answer it, and just never thought about the gun until half an hour later when I noticed the empty holster.

So, what can we do about that sort of thing? First, there was no earthly reason why I HAD to answer the phone right then. If it had rung a few minutes earlier, I wouldn’t have thought a thing about ignoring it and letting it go to the answering machine. Why we react like Pavlov’s dogs to a ringing phone or the doorbell, I’ll never really understand, but all kinds of distractions are something to think about and most are certainly under our control.

Next I remembered that I had previously put the gun on a shelf directly at eye level when standing at the sink to wash. That shelf got filled with other things, so this time I’d put it on another shelf lower down – and it was out of sight once I stood up! The lower shelf might be a bigger problem for other reasons if I didn’t live alone, but “out of sight, out of mind” was problem enough.

Then, sometimes the habits necessary for one thing cause trouble in other areas. When learning to carry concealed, I’d carefully schooled myself against patting or otherwise touching the gun once it was in place… something I did occasionally when carrying openly before. I’d have noticed the gun was missing instantly if I’d not taught myself not to pat it.

Sometimes you just can’t win.

Has this happened to you? Where were you, and what did you do to correct the problem? I can tell you that I won’t forget to look for that gun and make sure it’s in the holster each time now for quite a while.The shock was pretty good incentive, and I only hope it lasts. I don’t even want to think about how embarrassing it would have been to leave the house like that, or to have a visitor find the gun I’d left behind.

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?

Explaining Our Mindset

20130227-193210.jpgI had a difficult conversation with a friend a couple of days ago. Thinking about it, I’m not sure I gave her a very satisfactory answer, though I’m unsure what I could have said that would have been better.

“I looked at your blog,” she told me during our conversation. “I just don’t understand how you can be so VIOLENT!” When I asked her what she meant, she referred to this post, and to how I’d looked at the situation and lessons learned. “How can you go through life all day thinking about the world that way?” she asked me. “Like everyone’s out to get you and you have to respond with violence!”

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Get Off the “X”!

20130212-070606.jpgAlthough the temperature was rapidly dropping toward freezing, he wore only faded jeans and a loose T-shirt. But that wasn’t what set off alarm bells for me. It was, I think, the fact that he wasn’t acting like he was cold, and if his story was true, he bloody well should have been.

I locked eyes with my friend, who’d gone inside to pay for the gas we were putting in her car and was approaching from behind me. I could tell that she’d gone to heightened alert too, even before she heard the young man’s story (”I just walked five miles in the cold, can you give me a few bucks for something to eat?”) But my attention was focused on him, and on the fact that he kept inching closer and closer to me.

I stepped back and over, keeping the car between me and him and also giving me a clearer escape path. Behind me, my friend did the same. “Sorry, I can’t help you,” I said, polite but firm. He took another step toward me, and I moved again. My eyes stayed locked on his hands, which hovered near the pockets of his jeans. As long as you can see his hands, you can tell what he’s doing, I thought to myself. He continued to try to get close to us, and my friend and I kept moving – not back, mostly, but sideways. After a minute he gave up and approached another motorist, who gave him some money. And just like that, he vanished in the night. If I’d had to guess, I’d say that money wasn’t going to be spent on food.

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Situational Awareness Fail

20130207-065247.jpgI might not have see the dog, even if I’d been paying closer attention. He darted out from behind a large trash can and a low brick wall, and his nose was nuzzling my fingers before I even knew what was happening. Luckily, his intentions weren’t hostile, and I was able to just walk away. But there’s no guarantee that will always be the outcome.

I was out for a “road hike” when it happened. I’m going backpacking with a friend semi-regularly now so I’ve added a small pack of about 15 pounds to my routine when I go for a walk. It’s good exercise, good practice, and a chance to troubleshoot my gear. When the stray dog approached me, I was two miles into a 3-1/2 mile walk. I had a good pace, good rhythm, and I was feeling relaxed and confident. And just like that, relaxed and confident, I let my guard down and my attention drift, for just a minute.

Lessons learned?

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