Sunday, April 1, 2012

The scary realities of self-defense

I've recently received a number of after-action reports about self-defense situations and encounters. I'm not able to share them at this time, due to ongoing legal issues, but once the trials of the perpetrators are over I may be able to provide more details. Meanwhile, I've selected other incidents from recent and contemporary news reports to illustrate my points.

These incidents illustrate several harsh realities about self-defense and personal security; things that are fundamental to being able to cope when the proverbial brown substance hits the rotary air impeller. If you get these elements right, you're more likely to prevail in the heat of the moment, and be able to justify your actions to responding officers, prosecuting authorities and (if necessary) a jury of your peers. If you get one or more of them wrong, you may not survive to justify your actions; and if you do, you may find it more difficult to do so.

1. Crime can happen anywhere, at any time, under any circumstances, to anyone.

There is almost nowhere that's 100% safe from criminals. Some areas are more secure than others, but 'more secure' does not equate to 'completely secure'. A few examples:

  • A motorist successfully defended himself with a firearm after being attacked by two men while filling his car. The entire incident was captured on security video. When last did you worry about being attacked while putting gas in your car? I'm sure that motorist didn't expect it.
  • An unprepared husband and wife found an intruder in their home. They were very lucky indeed that he was unarmed, and fled rather than attacking them. He'd already struck four homes that night. Later, his trial collapsed with a hung jury. They had identified him from a police line-up; so what are the odds that he might hold that against them, and be back soon to express his resentment?
  • A man who'd just lost a custody battle with his former wife entered the 'upmarket beauty salon' in California where she worked, and murdered her and seven other people. A ninth victim survived with serious injuries. What if you'd been one of the customers there that morning? Would you have anticipated trouble like that, and been prepared for it? People can 'snap' anywhere, at any time, so any business you patronize might be at risk.
  • The ongoing furore over the recent Trayvon Martin affair has spilled over onto other families. Irresponsible public figures circulated what they believed - incorrectly - to be the address of the shooter. What if your address had been wrongly identified and circulated like that? What if a pack of angry youths came pounding on your door, looking for retribution? How would you handle the situation while waiting for the police to respond? If you think it couldn't happen to you, consider that neither family affected by the situation thought it would happen to them, either!
  • Last week no less than six houses on the street where I live (in a pleasant, nominally low-crime neighborhood) were targeted by criminals, and my elderly, sometimes confused neighbor was the victim of a high-pressure scam operation. Strangers came to the door of my home on three occasions during the week, but since I didn't know any of them, I didn't open it - thereby possibly saving myself from similar problems. (Can you identify who's at your door before you open it? If not, fix that as soon as possible! It makes you unnecessarily vulnerable to criminals. There are many potential solutions.)

You can't afford the luxury of assuming that crime is something that happens to other people. If you believe that, you're nothing more than a victim in waiting. Here's an example to snap you out of your complacency. Remember - this might be you!

2. You won't have time to prepare your response to crime.

When something goes down, you'll almost certainly have to deal with it with what you have available right there, right then. Consider:

  • A strong man who knows what he's doing can kick open an average domestic door in less than five seconds (as in the TV news report above). Take a look at your entrance doors and their frames right now. If they're typical of modern construction, you can put your foot right through their flimsy sandwich construction without too much effort. Their lock plates will be secured in softwood door frames with short screws, making it easy to kick them right out of the frame (as illustrated in this news report - see 36 seconds into the video). You won't have time to run to your gun safe (which may be at the other end of the house), unlock it, open it, select a weapon from its rack, load it, and prepare to deal with the situation. An intruder will kick open the door and be on top of you before you can do all that. Are you able to prevent that, if necessary, right now?
  • One of the examples of crime I cited in point 1 above was the man who murdered his ex-wife and seven others at a beauty salon. What if you're sitting in a business like that when a crazed gunman bursts through the door? If you turn to run, you'll be offering your defenseless back to the shooter. Don't even think about it! You've got to respond at once, neutralizing the threat he poses to your life and safety. Are you in a position to do so?
  • Scumbags target businesses and locations where they expect to meet with little or no resistance, and be able to make an 'easy score'. Are you alert to your surroundings when you're in such places? Do you check out those around you, to see whether their dress, attitude, language, behavior, etc. send any warning signals? Yes, this is what's known as profiling. Despite its 'politically incorrect' reputation, it's a valuable tool. Read this account for an example of how it works in the real world - and if you're not already 'profiling' those around you, start doing so at once. It may be the only indication you get that something's about to go badly wrong.

What this means is that you'll have to deal with a threat using only what you have available at the time. If you don't carry a gun (either because you don't want to, or because it's not legally possible in the area where you live), or keep one readily available, you'll have to be much more alert to your surroundings, and try even harder to stay out of trouble - because you probably won't have the tools necessary to get out of it once you're in it!

3. Forewarned is forearmed.

Are you aware of common threats to security in your area?

  • What are the crime statistics for the area(s) where you live, and work, and through which you travel? If you don't know them, find out! It's very important information. For example, if a particular neighborhood is a hotbed of vehicle hijacking, you would logically plan to avoid it on your daily commute between home and work - but if you don't know the risk, you won't take that precaution. If home invasion crimes are becoming more common in your area, you can make your home more secure against them by installing stronger doors, and tougher door-frames, and bars over the windows, and surveillance systems, and so on. You'll generally only take precautions against dangers you know to exist. If you aren't aware of them, the odds of you being prepared for them are much lower.
  • What about gangs that operate in or near your area? Are any of them known crime threats? Do you know, and can you identify on demand, their distinguishing clothing, tattoos, colors, signs and symbols, etc.? Do you know locations, businesses, places of entertainment, etc. which they own, or regard as 'theirs', or where their members may hang out - and do you avoid all such places? If not, why not? What about rivalries between two or more gangs that might erupt into random violence, threatening everybody nearby, or young gang members looking to establish their reputation through violence?
  • Are there any prisons nearby - particularly lower-security institutions with minimal precautions against escape? Have there been any escapes from them, particularly attempts that may have placed nearby homes and/or neighborhoods at risk?
  • Are there any high-crime-risk areas nearby, such as transit hubs (train stations, bus terminals, etc.), hospital emergency rooms, drug abuse treatment centers, shelters for the homeless, police stations, etc.? Think of the kind of places that may attract the wrong sort of person. Are any of them close to your home, or your place of work, or the routes you travel, or the shops you frequent, or your children's schools? If so, those who frequent them are much more likely to be a threat to you.
  • What about criminals living nearby? Take, for example, registered sex offenders. There are many official and private online services that will inform you of their location. How many live within walking distance of your home? You may be very unpleasantly surprised by the answer to that question! It should make you a whole lot more aware of the threat such individuals may pose to the safety of your children, and those of your neighbors. How about 'halfway house' facilities in your neighborhood? Not all their residents are necessarily law-abiding.

The more you know about potential threats to your security, the better you can prepare yourself, your family, your home, your route(s) of travel, etc. to deal with them. If you don't know what they are, you may as well be a sheep waiting for the slaughter.

Remember, too, that threats to security may suddenly arise without warning. For example, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 saw the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents from New Orleans to far distant areas. Many cities and towns that took them in saw their crime rates shoot up, because many of the refugees came from high-crime, gang-plagued areas of New Orleans and brought their lawless ways with them. What will you do if an emergency brings evacuees to your area? The vast majority of them may be honest, honorable, law-abiding citizens . . . but probably not all of them.

It'll be too late to prepare when a criminal suddenly arrives on your doorstep. You need to have basic, common-sense security measures in place now, before they become necessary. That's what preparedness is all about. For example, watch the video news report below. In particular, note (at about 1m. 39s.) how the intruder selected that house at random as his target.

There's also the need to be prepared for natural and other disasters that may affect you, your family and your home, but those don't necessarily fall under the 'self-defense' umbrella. See my articles about emergency preparedness - listed in the sidebar - for a discussion of such topics.

4. In an emergency, your response will default to the level of your training and preparation.

This has been proven time and time again, in all sorts of circumstances. It's so well known that it's become a cliché: "Train the way you'll fight", or "You'll fight like you've trained" - people have been saying those things, or something like them, probably for as long as humanity has existed! They remain as true today as they ever were. If you have not trained; if you have not envisioned potential threat scenarios, and planned in your mind how you'll respond to them; if you have not practiced regularly with the tools you'll use to resist attack; then your response to a threat is likely to be sub-optimal, at best. At worst, you and/or your loved ones may be injured or killed. I don't know about you, but I don't want that to happen to me or mine!

In a simple blog article like this, I can't possibly teach you how to prepare yourself against threats to your security. That takes hands-on training, and high-level input from those who know what they're talking about. At a distance, and without being able to assess your current level of knowledge for myself, I can't provide that.

As a low-level, initial introduction to the field, I recommend as many of the following courses by the National Rifle Association as you'd like to take:

  • Basics of Personal Protection in the Home (overview here);
  • Basics of Personal Protection Outside The Home (review here);
  • NRA Basic Courses in Pistol and/or Rifle and/or Shotgun Shooting (descriptions here);
  • The 'Refuse To Be A Victim' program.

You can find instructors and facilities offering these courses in your area at the NRA's Web site.

For more advanced training, I unhesitatingly and unreservedly recommend courses by Massad Ayoob. In my (reasonably extensive) experience, he's in a class of his own (you should pardon the expression). He doesn't teach shooting skills alone, but focuses on managing the self-defense environment in all its complexity, including legal, psychological, sociological and practical aspects. I've done three courses with him, and thoroughly enjoyed them all. Click over to his Web site for more information, and add his blog to your reading list. He offers his training courses all over the country, and also lists 'training associates' on his Web site, who offer courses that he considers worthwhile. You should be able to find something close to you.

For ladies, Kathy Jackson of The Cornered Cat offers excellent training courses for women, and has some useful recommendations about what to look for in women's training courses. I've known Kathy online for many years (although I only recently met her in the flesh), and have the highest respect for her knowledge and capabilities. She's good people.

There are many other instructors and schools offering shooting and self-defense courses and training. Some are better than others. I'd suggest doing a few of the NRA courses listed above, followed by one or more of Massad Ayoob's courses and/or one or more of those offered by his 'training associates', and/or a course from Kathy Jackson. After you've put those foundations in place, you'll be in a much better position to assess your future needs, and be able to judge other courses for yourself.

Finally, once you've received training, remember to practice what you've learned! You'll default to the level of your training, sure enough, but that level is perishable. Without constant practice, your capabilities will steadily diminish. I personally recommend a practice session at least once per quarter, preferably once per month, and ideally every one to two weeks, expending at least 50-100 rounds each time. You'll have to decide for yourself how much time and money you're willing to invest in that effort. What's your life worth to you - not to mention the lives of your loved ones?

5. A final reminder - be prepared to respond to a threat anywhere, at any time.

You can't assume that some places, or certain periods of the day, are more 'threatening' than others. Crimes can and do occur anywhere, anytime, without warning. Here are just a few examples of real-life incidents.

You can watch many more video reports about the lawful use of firearms in self-defense at The Armed Citizen's YouTube channel. They offer sobering lessons about the prevalence of crime and criminals. Learn from them! It may save your life.

I hope this article, and the reports above, have helped you consider the reality of self-defense, and the potential dangers you face. May you always be prepared for them, and triumph over them!



Anonymous said...

Aaaannnd, now that it is getting warmer and people are leaving windows open, there is one more point of entry. It is one that you might not hear as well as, oh, someone trying to break in your door.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Peter. For the 100th time. You have inspired me, not just to keep a loaded handgun nearby, but also to get interested in tactical training. I'm no hothead, but as my cousin, who is a police detective said "If you run across someone in your house that shouldn't be there, you don't want to find out what they're after."

Phillip said...

When last did you worry about being attacked while putting gas in your car? I'm sure that motorist didn't expect it.

Every time I fill up. I drive a minivan, and I keep my back to the vehicle as much as possible and scan the parking lot. There were some filling station muggings here a few years back, and I got in the habit. Just as I got in the habit of keeping my eyes open when I walk out of WalMart or a grocery store, since there have been some strongarm muggings there as well. Basically, if I'm somewhere people can walk up to me, I keep my eyes open and watch my back. I grew up in WV and learned to do that in the woods when we had bears wandering around.

trailbee said...

Some years ago my mate and I moved to the Northern CA Foothills from the LA/LB/Compton area. I was so used to living on the defensive 24/7 that I could not believe the lackadaisical attitude of the people, and it took me several years to readjust my adrenaline level, but not by much! We have the dubious distinction of being a successful pot growing county, which means we have all sorts of alien gardeners popping up in weird places.
There is an excellent weapons training school in the next county, which also has a "Women's only" class. I went last year, and plan to go again this year.

Old NFO said...

Excellent post Peter, and well worth the read. Too many don't believe it can happen to them, and don't take the proper precautions... sadly, some of them lose their lives because of it.

agirlandhergun said...

Such a great post! Thanks for the reminders, tips, solutions. I am going to link this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I'm always amazed when people use the"I'm a good person so nothing bad will happen to me" school of self defense.

They end up emotionally damaged than those who were perpared when Mr.Trouble comes to call.

Maura said...

AGirl linked me over to this post - and it's terrific. Thanks so much for a really well put together discussion of self defense.