The consequences of cooperation

In the past few weeks a number of “news” organizations have taken to the air to offer advice to the general public on how to deal with home invaders. The suggestions in these pieces have been laughably absurd, including suggesting keeping wasp spray by the bedside to spray in an intruder’s eyes. A common suggestion in these stories, and indeed a common suggestion from the sort of people who push gun control, is to cooperate fully with the bad guy in hopes that he won’t hurt you.

If violent criminals operated on what we recognize as logic and reason, that might be somewhat useful advice…but bad guys don’t work that way. When I did a writeup on the two classes I took with Greg Ellifritz a couple of weeks ago, one of the things I neglected to mention was that Mr. Ellifritz has an exceptionally useful blog where he Hoovers up a bunch of interesting reading on a wide variety of subjects as well as giving his own worthwhile insight on some items. I want to direct you to a specific post about insults and challenges to bad guys. The whole thing is worth reading, but for our purposes today I want to focus on the following account:

“There is, however, a worthwhile learning point in the article. The robber walked into a store and fired a couple of shots from a rifle into the ceiling before demanding cash. The victim (a store manager) complied. As she was handing over the money, she was still stunned by what was going on. She made a careless comment, saying ‘you’re not going to shoot me’ to the robber. The robber took those words as a challenge and shot her in the leg before taking the money and running from the store. When asked by police if he felt any remorse, the robber replied that he did not. He blamed his actions on the victim, stating: ‘You don’t tell somebody that’s got a gun pointed at you that you’re not going to shoot them”

 This nicely describes the disconnect between the assumptions of people who urge cooperation with violent felons and the way violent felons behave in reality. There was no cause for attempted murder from the cooperative, helpless victim and yet the bad guy took offense over the slightest thing and put a bullet into her anyway. It turns out that the sort of guy who walks into a Dollar General store and fires a couple of shots into the ceiling before demanding money doesn’t have much of a mental barrier against shooting even a compliant and helpless person over nothing.

Gordon Schaffer complying with the armed robber’s commands

That’s not the only example, of course. Twenty two year old Gordon Schaffer was working the late shift at a pizza delivery joint when two men with guns entered and robbed the place. They demanded the money from the register and Mr. Schaffer complied immediately.

And then as they were leaving, one of them opened fire. Mr. Schaffer was hit in the chest and despite being airlifted to a trauma center died of his wounds.  Mr. Schaffer was perfectly compliant just like all the “experts” said he should be, and he was murdered. I’ll let the police investigating the crime sum it up for you:

“Mr. Gordon did everything he was supposed to do, he complied to everything, he gave them the money they asked for. The reason we’re saying senseless is because it didn’t have to happen,” said Sgt. Michael Kash with Columbia PD. “He was compliant and they still shot him.”

He was compliant, and they still shot him.

If you go to a lecture by William Aprill you will hear him discuss the difference between instrumental violence and expressive violence. Instrumental violence is the use of violence to achieve a particular end. This is the more “rational” (and I use that term very loosely) sort of violence, the kind of violence that the gun control experts assume is happening. Bad guy wants money, you don’t give him the money, he hits/stabs/shoots you to get the money. Ergo, if you give him the money he has what he wants and has no reason to harm you. The trouble is that they conveniently neglect to acknowledge a big chunk of human nature that’s far more sinister.


Unfortunately the sort of men Alfred is talking about there aren’t just fictional characters like the Joker. They’re all too real. Men like Mr. Broadnax or the man who murdered Mr. Schaffer are not killing because their victim was in the way of achieving their goal, they did it because they could. Some people express themselves through music, some through dance, some through poetry, some through cooking or woodworking or website design. These men express themselves with murder. They don’t run on logic or reason as you or I would recognize it. They don’t have the capacity for empathy or pity. They are remorselessly brutal and savage and will continue to be so until the day they die.

Cooperation with such an individual is not an effective survival strategy.

Never bet your life on the moral recognizance of someone who is sticking a gun in your face. Gun control proponents might reluctantly acknowledge the existence of such men but would argue that most bad guys sticking a gun in your face are just after the money, so cooperate. Trouble is that you can’t tell the difference between the guys who are after the money and the guys who will kill you until they pull the trigger…and by then it’s too late for you. So I have a radically different suggestion:

Don’t allow somebody to stick a gun in your face. Self defense is not a risk free endeavor, but even FBI statistics show that resisting with an effective weapon like a firearm tends to have the lowest risk of death or serious injury. As I’ve said before, helpless victims bring out the worst in bad men. An armed and determined opponent, on the other hand, usually brings about their flight or their end.


  1. Tim,
    Can you please cite this statement, “…even FBI statistics show that resisting with an effective weapon like a firearm tends to have the lowest risk of death or serious injury.” The only data I can find on this topic was from Don B. Kates who did not get his data from FBI numbers. I’m not saying your incorrect, I just want to know from where the data came.

  2. Also, before anyone posts, the “your” should be “you’re”. I caught the mistake when re-reading my post. 10 seconds after the original.

  3. Several years ago there was a case in WA whose video was widely shown in academies and training seminars. Perhaps you remember it.
    An offender robbed a convenience store. The female clerk complied. After he had the money, the offender,who was using a COP four-barrel pepperbox pistol, shot her. The pistol misfired THREE TIMES; the fourth shot hit her in the chest. He left, she fell behind the counter. She died before help arrived. In the last part of the video the victim is out of sight on the floor behind the counter, singing to herself until she loses consciousness and dies.
    Maybe someone in the news media should watch it.

  4. Tim,

    I’d note that in many cases killing witnesses may indeed be “logical.” If the likely sentence for armed robbery is quite high, say high enough to have the same relative impact as the sentence for second degree murder, then reducing the likelihood of being caught by killing any witnesses may be the most logical way to proceed. This of course requires that the perpetrator doesn’t place any innate value on human life, which, as you pointed out, isn’t generally a problem for the people who commit violent crimes.

  5. I make sure that I have tea and crumpets available for unwanted guests at all times; however, the tea was steeped for too long and the crumpets are always a day old. This way I can charm home invaders with my hospitality, while gently nudging them not to overstay their welcome.

  6. I like to point out to people that when you are in a situation like this, you are leaving the choice of whether you live or die to person who has clearly already made some very poor life decisions.

  7. “Never bet your life on the moral recognizance of someone who is sticking a gun in your face.”


  8. At one point victim’s advocates and some law enforcement promoted an idea to rape victims to pee or vomit on their attackers to make them stop … and then wiser heads prevailed and taught, “Fight, fight, fight” knowing that a screaming, yelling, kicking, punching, resisting victim is much more likely to get an attacker to flee.

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