One of the most hotly debated topics in the discussion of self defense is the nature of the threat the average person is likely to face. Some argue that if you aren’t a cop, bad guys you deal with are typically very stupid and will typically run away rather than engage you in a fight. There’s some evidence to back that up, as it’s pretty clear that merely presenting a firearm will indeed cause a lot of bad guys to immediately beat feet. “A lot” is not all, however, and I contend that the bad guy you’re most likely to have to pull the trigger on is neither as stupid nor weak as we might like to think. To expand on that idea I’m going to do a sort of a mini case-study on a particular bad guy who tried to murder an average CCW holder during a holdup, hopefully illustrating that maybe some of our assumptions about bad guys don’t really hold up in the real world.
A little while ago, our friends at Ballistic Radio did an outstanding interview with Justin Schneiders, a regular guy who found himself in the path of a violent predator. I strongly encourage you to listen to the interview because I think Justin’s experience serves as an excellent touchstone for discussing some of the realities of self defense. The predator who chose Justin as his victim also has a lot to tell us about the criminal actors we’re most likely to have to engage with lethal force.
I first became aware of Justin’s experience because he posted a thread on AR15.com detailing what happened to him that made rounds on the various gun forums. It’s a very long thread, but worth a read from beginning to end because it contains a great deal of information that you might find useful. Before the incident Justin’s background was pretty similar to the background of most folks who carry concealed. To the best of my knowledge he wasn’t in law enforcement or in any military position that included significant combat training. He was just your average good dude with a good job, a good family, and some good friends and so would be typical of your “average” CCW holder and exemplar of how “average joes” do not always face “average” threats.
Bad guys aren’t “random”
Justin had a regular get together with some friends of his at a buddy’s law office. What Justin didn’t know that his regular get-together with his friends was being watched carefully. Specifically a woman who worked in food service at a near-by prison. She wasn’t a prisoner, mind you, but an actual employee of the corrections department. It turns out she had a thing for one of the inmates, a guy with an already pretty extensive rap sheet who was hungry for a score once he got out of the prison for his last offense. The woman directed him to Justin’s regular get together with friends as a potential target.
We often assume that bad guys are low order predators who attack targets of opportunity, and it’s certainly true that some of them operate exactly like that. Some is not all. In this case, Justin and his friends were targeted by an experienced predator. Some bad guys are total losers with no real social skills, that’s true. If you actually go through prisons looking at the worst offenders, however, you’ll often find that a number of them are actually fairly adept judges of human character. Predators have to be astute judges of their prey or they go hungry. In this case, the predator was apparently able to spot an opportunity in this commissary worker and could muster enough charm to work up a relationship with her that led to a place to stay and a score once he got out. You don’t often hear bad guys discussed as being manipulative and calculating, but the fact is that those who make their living preying on others have to develop the ability to think strategically and manipulate others to be successful.
We also don’t typically think of bad guys as being planners, but if you look at the operation of criminals ranging from street criminals pulling hold up jobs to those who sexually abuse children, you’ll often see them employing strategies in the selection of victims, the locations where they perpetrate attacks, and the way they approach victims. When you look through their history you often find evidence that they’ve actually honed tactics and skills, learning from failures and making adjustments to ensure future success.
The plan may be centered on a particular location where the bad guy notices a good profit potential and low chances of getting caught, or it could be centered on an individual or group that the bad guy thinks is vulnerable to attack. Either way, though, there’s planning and strategy at work.
People often confuse being opportunistic with being random or unsophisticated. As if the criminal act is more in line with someone who has poor impulse control. You often hear victims of crime state that the event took place “out of the blue” and that contributes to the idea that these things happen like lightning strikes. When you dig deeper, however, you often find that while it seemed completely out of the blue to the victim, the bad guy was employing strategy. A while ago the bank that my church uses was robbed at gunpoint. It happened fast and seemingly out of the blue to the victims inside the bank, but it turns out that the perp lived close to the bank, was familiar with the physical layout and patterns of the bank’s business, and had actually been watching the place for a bit before finally storming through the doors with his gun.
Bad guys are opportunists, but this doesn’t mean that they are exclusively impulsive. They actively look for opportunities and often gather intelligence and plan based on what they know about their intended target. Justin’s experience (and many other crimes on top of that) teaches us that most of the time when the “average joe” meets up with the criminal predator, it’s because the criminal has a plan. Most citizens busy leading their lives don’t.
Yeah, bad guys usually aren’t rocket scientists. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are unfamiliar with strategy or gathering intelligence on a potential target.
What we can learn from this aspect of the case study is this: Since bad guys usually have a plan, we’d better have one too.