Sure, You Can Shoot- But Can You Defend Yourself?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is a lot of talk in gun culture about the features of this gun or that gun, the benefits of different barrel twist rates,  how some accessory is advantageous in some certain scenario, or how to set up your plate carrier. Those are all fine and good things to talk about, but the magnitude and amount of time and energy that many people invest into configuring their load-out for every contingency is largely disproportionate to the practical matters of self and community defense. Conflict will rarely escalate to a level that justifies a lethal means of defending yourself. Hopefully it will never escalate to that level for you. That’s not to say that certain demographics don’t incur lethal violence disproportionately and more often than others, or that lethal violence is not  a very real reality for a lot of folks, and I’m not arguing against being prepared for situations that could arise where having a plate carrier is practical, but I do wish folks took other aspects of defense more seriously before devoting all that energy and money into a set of level IV plates or the best tactical accessory.

The reality is that it’s more likely that you’ll need to defend yourself with verbal skills or that you will need to deploy empty handed skills to gain access to force multipliers before you can effectively use them. If you are serious about being able to defend yourself you should be developing skills outside the use of a firearm. A gun is not an answer for the vast majority of questions, and subsequently a gun could be part of the answer but there are other elements that must be integrated for you to get the question right. For instance,  I’ve worked on an outreach team for folks experiencing homelessness for nearly four years. I have seen a good share of violence and intervened in several situations, some including deadly weapons such as knifes and the presence of firearms, and I can say in hindsight that having a gun on my person didn’t  give me a distinct advantage in handling those particular situations as they played out. The advantage didn’t materialized because I was able to effectively intervene before things escalated to that level. If things had escalated further, then sure, I needed to be prepared for that, but it never happened in four years in a pretty chaotic environment where conflict was a regular thing. The skills I depended on most were connected to managing space between people, directing the environment and onlookers, verbal and non-verbal communication, simple clear directives, and watching the hands and body language of the agitated person.

From a legal and moral standpoint, you can’t reach for a knife or a gun just because someone slapped you or called you a derogatory slur. If you want to avoid the legal wrappings that will fuck up your life after a lethal encounter you have to be able to scale your response to violence, and a gun or a knife is not scalable to many many situations. In my opinion it’s not scalable to most situations, and that’s what’s disgusting about so much of America’s popular gun culture. People are so ready to go from 0 to 100 because of some petty ego driven bullshit. It’s part of their identity, something that they are proud of and boast about. A hypermasculine, poor shaming, or racist in attitude that is quick to assert their right to end someone’s life over things that aren’t actually a threat to their safety or others. This piece of shit in Florida is a perfect example. There was no threat to him or his wife, as the boy and their driver sped off. He murdered this child, and endangered all the folks unfortunate enough to be in his backstop, likely because of his own internal toxic bullshit. (Also a great example of how fucked up Florida’s laws are, and the criminal injustice system overall, but that’s another post entirely).

A lot of folks steeped in American gun culture like to beat their chest, mouth off, and challenge people to a fight. That’s the stupidest way to go about this world if you are trying to mitigate the potential for violence in your life. Shut up, check your ego, and when you have exhausted all the tools at your disposal to avoid a conflict and its go time, fucking do what you gotta do with prejudice, refuse to be a victim, but do as much as possible to avoid that situation. I’m not talking victim blaming after the fact, we are all human and have strong responses to negative inputs, historical and collective wounds, and justifiably so in many cases -as self defenders or  community defenders though, we should be strategic in how we go about employing our skills, not impulsive and knee jerk, certainly not dictated by our ego.

Examples of how a gun is not the end all be all of defense abounds. Give it some intentional thought and I’m sure you can quickly see where a gun is inappropriate. Verbal arguments, someone shouting terrible shit at you, someone cutting you of, things like that. Even if you deploy your gun and there was a solid justification your still gonna probably do some of time and you’re going to suffer hard financial consequences, even if you were in 100% in the right. Civil suits are a real thing and something that folks should have in mind when they train for using their firearm. The cost of using your weapon is severe and you should only use it if you have no other choice. Better to be capable of smaller interventions to mitigate the possibility of those outcomes with skills that don’t involve firearm mastery or tactical gear.

A gun won’t always get you to safety either and there are simply times that you wont have immediate access to a firearm for whatever reason. Practically speaking then, you need to know empty handed skills. In my state you can’t have a firearm on you during a demonstration or parade, so pulling security at a demonstration means having no gun on me. During work I wasn’t allowed to have a gun. If you live in a state that has non-permissive environments and you choose to heed those laws, you won’t have a gun on you. Perhaps you are at a school play or a festival that has a security check. In those circumstances some of the best tools I had at my disposal were situational awareness so you can get out of dodge early, my verbal and nonverbal communication so i can de-escalate situations, and importantly, the physical ability to get away or inflict scalable and proportionate damage on a material threat so I can get away.  Try as hard as you’d like, there are just times when your force multipliers won’t be within immediate reach for one reason or another and you are gunna have to depend on other skills to keep yourself safe.

I don’t believe in the legitimacy of the justice system in america, its a racist, genocidal wasteland, so don’t take the next statement as an endorsement of our justice system in any manner. Withstanding that, in the US there are 5 elements to self defense claims, lethal or nonlethal, meaning these elements include unarmed confrontations as well. I think these five elements is actually a good base. (I’ll note here that these five elements can be interpreted in court a number of ways and that there is the potential for serious bullshit to clear people of shit that has absolutely no justification.)  Those 5 elements are Avoidance, Innocence, Immanence, Proportionality, and Reasonableness. I could write a lot on those concepts but I’ll leave that for another time. Point is, you should be familiar with these concepts and thresholds if you want to take seriously and practically core principles behind community and self defense. Folks that are serious need to be able to scale their response in a proportionate manner to the threat. That means having other skills outside of shooting sub MOA groups at 400yards or whatever tactical shit makes you feel super cool. It means dropping the macho “I will fucking kill you for cutting me off” shit. It means you can’t shoot someone because they offended you, or even because they physically attack you. Is there a threat of significant bodily injury or death, or did I simply get shoved? There is a lot of nuance there- if homeboy is 220lbs, a trained fighter, and pushed you but didn’t follow through, bladed his body away from you, relaxed their posture, and let you get up -that threat isn’t immediate any more. If he follows you to the ground and starts to choke you out, even though he doesn’t have a weapon on him, there is a significant probability of grave bodily harm or death. If you lose consciousness what’s to keep them from stomping your face in or dropping some big heavy shit on your head. Maybe they crush your windpipe and you can no longer breath. As the grip tightens on your neck is using deadly force justified then?  You better have an answer figured out. That’s just a made up example, but if some shit goes down you have to know that those 5 factors will be examined to the fullest detail in court, so make sure you get it right and get your ego out of the way. The purpose of sharing this tidbit here is to say that having other skills gives you the ability not to have to decide between 0 and 100, you can more effectively scale to whatever the threat is.

The ultimate point is, training for the extreme scenario is cool, but you are cheating yourself by not having a good amount of skills in other areas that are more likely to arise. Prioritize what you focus on and resist the urge to get the latest and best new gear if you’re strapped for time and money. If you’re just starting out, you probably can’t shoot your gun at a level that your gun is capable of anyway and it’s gonna take a long time to get there – why not practice on things that you are more likely to need while you get there?  Situational awareness, verbal de-escalation, and the ability to physically defend yourself unarmed or fight your way to a force multiplier are less flashy concepts, but I think that it’s incumbent on us to learn those skills alongside our ability to shoot fast and accurate.

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