Why I carry

We’ve been discussing self defense a lot lately, and while the advice was targeted specifically for women, the general concept of “be aware” and “don’t be stupid” makes for pretty solid advice for everyone. One of the questions I was asked in an email was an honest inquiry as to why I carry a gun. Not in the 2nd Amendment sense of the question, because then that answer would be pretty easy, but rather an every day answer as to why I choose to arm myself.

I live in a pretty safe area, I work in a pretty safe area, and my commute goes through a pretty safe area. Statistically speaking, the odds of me ever needing my gun are just about slim and none; and I do confess that I sometimes feel a little silly about carrying. That hasn’t stopped me from carrying, but it has made me honestly evaluate exactly why I’m carrying a gun.

First off, here’s not why I’m carrying a gun.

  • I’m not carrying a gun because I’m paranoid. I don’t worry about someone jumping out of the bushes and demanding my wallet, or accosting Mrs. Ahab and me while we take a stroll through the neighborhood. Living my life in that kind of paranoid fear would be a pretty miserable way to go about things.
  • I’m not carrying a gun because it makes me feel powerful. My personal feeling of power isn’t at all connected to how well or poorly armed I am at any given moment. My feelings of empowerment would generally stem from my ability to control what’s going on around me, coupled with my ability to react appropriately to things out of my control. That can only come from being alert and aware.
  • I’m not carrying a gun because I want to shoot someone. Honestly, the people that spout stuff like this are just morons. I don’t know anyone who carries a gun that is excited about the concept of ventilating another human being.

That covers the broad strokes of silly things that people believe about folks that choose to arm themselves. Now let’s look at some reasons why I am carrying a gun.

  • I’m carrying a gun because I’m responsible for my safety. Not the police. Not the government. Me. When you get right down to it, the only person that is ultimately accountable for my safety is me; it is up to me as an individual to protect myself from bad thing that may happen. While I prefer to avoid and escape dangerous situations, I may be confronted with a situation where force is my only option.
  • Humans use tools. If you think about humans as “hairless, upright monkeys”; our evolution and adaptation as a species has been allowed by our ability to use tools to adapt our surroundings to us. My personal opinion is that since I am responsible for my own safety, and am not equipped with claws, sharp fangs, or the ability to dispense fireballs out my ass; it would probably benefit for me to find a tool for which to protect myself in the event of an emergency. A gun is the most effective tool available for me.
  • I’m carrying a gun because I’d rather be prepared. I have a first aid kit in the house. With that first aid kit, I can apply immediate emergency aid to a variety of injuries. However, I’m not sitting around my house, first aid kit in hand waiting for my wife to cut herself in the kitchen. Just as I hope that I never have to open my first aid kit, I hope that I never need to draw my gun.

Those are big picture concepts. I’m not trying to convert someone who doesn’t carry a gun into an NRA life member. What I want is for people who are serious about taking responsibility for their own safety to see into my head and hopefully understand exactly why I make the perfectly rational decision every day to carry a sidearm. I also want them to understand a lot of the popular conceptions of people who carry guns just aren’t true. I seriously doubt that Sebastian, Uncle, or Bitter (to name a few) are carrying guns because they’re excited about maybe getting to shoot someone.

Most concealed carry holders make an educated, adult decision to carry a firearm. It’s not something that we take lightly, because no matter how you beat around the bush, defending your life is a very serious matter. It’s not about the gun, it’s about the personal decision that I made to be responsible for my own safety. A gun is just part of a means to and end, it is not the end in itself.

Self Defense part 2

Yesterday we took a broad look at the variety of weapons available to a woman who is looking to defend herself. While practical and entertaining (for me anyway); a weapon of any kind is actually a last resort in a self-defense situation. As a civilian, I view the personal use of a firearm for self-defense as the sign that I either have no other options, or have exhausted all my relevant options except for lethal force.

While I am oft glib in my writing, the use of force is something that should be taken very seriously. I also feel that while violence is often a useful tool for defending yourself, that if violent encounters can be avoided, they should be. The following piece is in a nutshell exactly the same counsel I would give my wife or any of our female friends on what you can do before and to prevent a violent encounter.

Avoidance
A teacher once said to me (and no doubt cribbed from elsewhere) that “The best way to win a fight is to not be there when it happens”. I wholeheartedly subscribe to this theory, and encourage its practice. Of course, it’s very easy for me to say “avoid the fight” – but how exactly do you go about avoiding the fight?

Your most efficient weapon for self defense is what resides in between your ears. The phrase “knowledge is power” is quite literally true, especially when it comes to self defense and avoiding dangerous situations. I’m not saying that you need to be constantly keyed up and ready to rock-and-roll; the list below contains what I generally consider to be “vital” knowledge.

  • Know your area – Be familiar with your town/city. Know which parts of town are considered less safe than others, and avoid those areas if possible. It isn’t foolproof, but if you avoid areas that are statistically high in crime, you reduce your odds of becoming a statistic.
  • Know where you are – This partners with the above, knowledge of where you live can prevent you from being in a situation where you don’t know where you are. One of the key reasons that you should know where you are is that if something bad should happen, you’re more likely to escape if you’re knowledgeable of the area you’re in and where you are in that area.
  • Know your surroundings – This is as simple as “don’t look at your own feet” when you’re walking around. Awareness of your surroundings and who or what is occupying them allows you to take preemptive action if necessary to escape or evade a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Trust your gut – Have you ever had a “bad feeling” about a specific place or person? Odds are that your “gut feeling” is actually your animal self-preservation instinct. Listen to that feeling.
  • Retreat – This is the final option in avoidance. Also called the “track shoe defense”. If your knowledge has lead you to believe that you’re in imminent danger, the safest and smartest option is to avoid that danger altogether and beat a hasty retreat to the safest place. Like the man says, the best fight is one you don’t get in.

Deterrence
Second to avoiding a dangerous situation entirely, there are also ways that you can actively deter threats, literally make yourself an unappealing target for someone out to do no good. Deterrence is strongly tied to avoidance – since the key to good avoidance is knowledge, that same knowledge can be used to deter potential threats. Here are some general guidelines for deterring others from seeing you as a tempting victim.

  • Posture – This is actually a much bigger deal that you’d realize. Whether or not you consciously think about it, humans respond to the body language of other humans. Head up, shoulders back, good posture while walking around says that you’re confident and aware of your surroundings. Slouched over, looking at your feet or the sidewalk says that you’re not aware of what’s going on around you.
  • Travel in packs – While it may seem silly, a group of people is less likely to be attacked than an individual. There is quite literally safety in numbers. Honestly, most women do this anyway, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this issue.
  • “I’ll call you right back” – Wait to make that call. People on their cell phones are some of the most distracted and least situationally aware people out there. If you’re in a place where it would behoove you to be paying attention to your surroundings, chit-chatting with Stacey on your phone is not going to help Team Awareness. Wait until you’re in a safer location to have that conversation.

Common Sense
This section could also be titled “don’t be stupid”. Common sense and not doing things that a reasonable person would regard as foolish/dangerous go a long way towards avoiding and deterring dangerous encounters.

  • Don’t walk 4 blocks home from the bar by yourself at 4am – When sober, or drunk. I have had multiple discussions with young ladies who insisted that “I’m fine to walk home, it’s only four blocks” when they were having difficulty standing on their own power. There is no shame in asking for a ride (from a sober driver), or having someone you trust walk you home.
  • Don’t let someone you don’t know walk you home – While I’d say that the majority of people aren’t psychos and rapists, some people are. When you’re getting someone to walk you home from the bar at 4am – your new BFF that you’ve been doing tequila shots with for the past 2 hours isn’t the best option. I don’t know how to break this to you, but his intentions might not be…honorable.
  • Don’t take a drink from a stranger – Seriously. The fact that women do this boggles my mind, it honestly does. Even here in Indiana where people are nice, you just don’t accept a drink of unknown origins from someone. Honestly.
  • Don’t count on the cavalry – You cannot depend on the police to respond in time to save you. The Supreme Court has actually ruled that the police officer’s obligation to defend “the people” does not mean that they have a specific obligation to defend you as an individual. What that means is that even if you call 911, the cops might not be there fast enough to help. I’m not saying don’t call 911 (because you should), what I’m saying is that it’s unwise to place the trust for your safety in the hands of police.

Responsibility
Ultimately, there is one person responsible for your safety. It’s not me, and it’s not Officer Friendly either. It is you, and you alone. The goal of this entry isn’t to make you paranoid, or to think you’ve got to walk around with your head on a swivel like some “long-range-low-heat” tactical operator. Nothing in the above should interfere with how you live your daily life. What it’s designed to do is give everyone (man and woman) some handy solutions for smart things you can do to minimize your personal risks.

It all boils down to responsibility. You have to be willing to take responsibility for your own safety – when it all boils down you are your most reliable defense.

Update
Nathaniel raises a good question in the comments – some of his female friends feel like a cellphone creates a digital equivalent of the “travel in packs” concept, so they call people while they’re walking home.

After some thought, I’d recommend against that. Your situational awaren
es
s is your best weapon, I really feel like a cellphone conversation is only going to serve to distract your from your surroundings. Here’s my other problem with the “simulated” pack idea. Say something happens and you drop your phone. Your friend on the other end doesn’t know your exact location, and they best they can do is call 911 for you. I’d reckon that you’re better off waiting to make that call – that way you can call 911 yourself if you need to.

Women’s self-defense part 1

I see this morning as I roll through my favorite blogs that Pissed Off Housewife has tossed me (and Uncle) a link. Referring to me as being “up for debate” is quite kind, and entirely correct. I quite enjoy a good debate, as much as I enjoyed contact martial arts and boxing in my teens. If you’re inbound from PoH, and you’re not a “gun person” or even a gun owner, the following two part entries are for you. We’re going to be discussing self-defense for women, part one will deal with a hypothetical scenario in which force is going to be used, part two will deal with actual real world options available, running the gamut from retreat all the way to force.

For this discussion to have any merit whatsoever, two basic assumptions must be made and agreed upon. Those are as follows: 1) In the situation presented, the potential victim has no avenues of retreat from the threat, and 2) has decided to resist her assailant with her own violent force. The assumptions are necessitated in the hopes of removing the “she should have just run away” or “violence never solves anything” counter arguments. The reason those arguments should be disposed of is that this discussion is about the use of force – while I agree that if retreat is possible that should be your primary option, unfortunately retreat is not always possible. In those situations when you cannot retreat, the potential victim has the option of submission or resistance. As I stated above, for the purpose of this entry we’re assuming that the potential victim chooses (and I believe rightfully so) resistance to her (male) attacker.

So, in this situation a woman is being assaulted by a man, and has no options to retreat. First, let us look at some objective facts. Generally, a man is physically stronger than a woman. This is not a condemnation of women, nor saying that women are weak – my wife is quite strong, and is the same height as I am, yet I could easily overpower her.

Assuming that the woman offers resistance to her male attacker, she has two options as to how that resistance is presented, option A is hand to hand combat, option B is use of force multipliers (which is a nice phrase for weapons). Now, because this is the internet and you have no reason to believe me, you may feel free to disregard the following – however in the past I have taught martial arts including women’s self defense classes, I have also taught shooting classes and classes on carrying a handgun for personal defense. Like I said, you don’t have any reason to believe me, you just have my word.

Option A
In this option, the female is armed only with her hands and her wits. Despite the proliferation of women’s self-defense classes, 99 times out of 100 a woman is not going to “win” a hand-to-hand encounter with a man. It is an unfortunate fact that’s born out by thousands of battered wives and girlfriends across the nation. Enough was a nice movie, but it was just that – a movie. The conclusion of Option A is that hand to hand combat is less than an ideal solution.

Which brings us to Option B.
This involves the use of weapons, which run the gamut from improvised weapons such as combs and keys; up to less-lethal weapons such as tasers, pepper spray, and contact weapons; up the final rung of lethal force weapons such as knives and guns. I’ll break these out under sub-headings to examine the pro/con of them.

  • Improvised weapons – These are generally the least effective weapons to be used on an attacker, as they’re not originally designed to deliver force. Stabbing someone with a comb or raking them with your keys causes a woman to close to hand-to-hand distance with her attacker, which places squarely in the most dangerous position she can be in during a hostile encounter with a male assailant. Again, contact fighting with someone who is most likely larger and stronger than you are is considered a “bad idea”, for a man or a woman.
  • Less-Lethal weapons – This is a preferable option to “jab with your comb” or “whip with your keys”, as less than lethal weapons are actually tools designed to offer force to an attacker. I’ll even include the venerable baseball bat in this category, as it has deterred many a home invasion in its day. When you’re looking at self-defense options as a woman, I generally recommend weapons that allow the potential victim to gain distance from her attacker, and put herself out of his reach. The taser that deploys a tethered projectile is the ideal weapon for this situation, and has been used with great effectiveness by law enforcement officers. Next on the list I’d put the various anti-personnel sprays, such as mace and pepper spray. These require caution for a few reasons though. Their effective range isn’t as long as that of the taser, a strong wind can actually blow the spray back in your face (very unpleasant), and a determined attacker can fight his way through the spray. Finally, we have contact weapons such as baseball bats, collapsible batons, etc. I am actually a big proponent of contact weapons, as they allow you to deliver damage much greater than you could with your bare hands. The problem with contact weapons is well, the “contact” portion of the event. You have to hit your enemy, and at pretty close range. For our hypothetical woman defending herself, she’s once again at short range with a stronger attacker which puts her at a disadvantage.
  • Lethal force – Guns and knives are the contents of the “Lethal Force Envelope”. I’ve made my thoughts on knives as self-defense tools pretty clear in the past, suffice to say I’m not a big fan. Knives have an extremely high learning curve, and once again our potential victim is at very close range with her assailant. So, we’re left with firearms. A pistol is a compact firearm designed to be fired with one or two hands. It has very simple controls, and does not have a high learning curve – although training under stress is extremely beneficial. The point behind a firearm is that it allows our potential victim to deliver the greatest amount of force against her attacker, and at the same minimize her disadvantages. Even at close range a firearm is a better choice than a taser or an improvised weapon. This because the amount of force that can be delivered with a firearm has nothing to do with the physical strength of our potential victim. Ideally, a firearm can be used to prevent a violent encounter from closing to extremely close range.

Summary
From above, it could be easily extrapolated that the woman in the scenario is better off using a weapon to resist than she would be fighting with her bare hands. While arguments can be made about guns in the homes being used against their owners, a firearm allows someone to deliver force that is not proportionally related to their personal strength, and is more effective than pepper spray or tasers.

My question then to the “no guns for home defense” crowd is quite simple. In light of the above, and bearing in mind that humans as animals have only thrived since we discovered tools, why would you not choose the most effective tool for defending your life from violent encounters? I’m not here to argue about gun control (today), but I do
no
t (and cannot) understand why someone would feel that a woman (or a man) is better off defending their life with an inferior tool.

Part 2 of the series (tomorrow) will look at actual self-defense situations (no hypotheticals) and cover a variety of options from retreat to lethal force.