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Robert’s recent article, Self-Defense Tip: Go All-In. Unless You Don’t Have To brought back memories.  I’m a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. I served as a Security Policeman (not pictured above) — the USAF equivalent of an actual policeman, not a rivet counter–during the Cold War. I was stationed in the United States at a northern base, a place most people considered hardship duty, but having been raised in that part of the world, it felt like home to me. In those days, SPs and pararescue troops were just about the only USAF personnel that were ever under arms or regularly trained with arms and tactics. As unlikely as it was that I might have to use deadly force in my duties, it was something I had to think about . . .

As young as I was, those thoughts weren’t terribly deep, but I was pretty sure that if necessary, I could and would pull the trigger in defense of self and nation, and that I could and would hit the target. Like most people who served in the USAF in that era–I served in the Strategic Air Command–I was honorably discharged without ever having to shoot in anger, and I very rarely had to use physical force.

Upon leaving the military, I took a job as a civilian police officer, and I had to think harder about the use of force. Carrying a handgun everywhere every day, on and off duty–that was my choice–and wearing a bullet-resistant (not bullet-proof, but resistant) vest for about ten hours a day tended to encourage one to think about such things. Finding myself in situations where I came within milliseconds of shooting, and would have been justified, was convincing. I could shoot, and would shoot if I had to.

Fortunately, in all of those years playing cops and robbers, I never had to pull the trigger. I came very, very close on a number of occasions, but I was sufficiently well trained–much of that training came on my own dime and time–and capable to avoid shooting. I am very glad indeed I was able to avoid shooting. I don’t need that on my conscience, and I don’t need to spend years caught up in the criminal and civil justice systems.

Unless one is a true sociopath, someone that has no conscience, no caring whatsoever for others, this is a significant issue. It doesn’t matter that one is absolutely legally and morally justified in taking a life, the voice of conscience is never silent.

Make no mistake, if I ever have to shoot someone, I will not spend the rest of my days second-guessing and torturing myself. I will not awaken in a cold sweat, what-iffing myself to distraction. I know this because I’ve come so close so many times I can at least understand the feelings and issues. I will forgive myself, and so will the Lord–that’s important to me, and billions–and I will think about the moral issues and the effects of my actions on others, but it will not destroy me.

That’s partially why I carry a handgun. Because unless I preserve my life, I won’t be around to engage in enlightened philosophical debate. I won’t be around to take the moral high ground, but people a lot less concerned about such things than me will.

Unless we are relatively sure that we can and will use it if necessary, we should not carry handguns for self-defense.

But why learn the art of the gun? Why carry a gun at all? Why, for that matter, study a martial art? Why practice doing harm to your fellow man? That’s what guns are for, right? Doesn’t that mark one as violent, ill intentioned, perhaps even evil? Doesn’t it speak to inherently non-peaceful desires? Don’t people carry guns to compensate for personal weaknesses? Why carry weapons, or develop the knowledge and skill to use one’s body as a weapon, unless one really intends to use those weapons against others?

We do it because we–all of us–should want to survive to die peacefully–of natural causes–in our beds.

We are fortunate to live in a society where the necessity of using physical violence is uncommon. In truth, unless they belong to a criminal subgroup, or live in areas effectively ruled by criminals, the lives of most Americans will never be directly endangered by criminal violence. Most Americans will live a lifetime without having to strike another in self-defense, no broken noses, torn ears, damaged eye sockets, concussions, lacerations, bruises, sprains, broken bones, yet if we understand human nature, if we are willing and able to recognize reality, we must know that such danger is always, in unexpected ways and at unexpected times and places, possible.

We must also understand that sociopaths, or merely common criminals, usually strive to pick easy marks. Most want to minimize danger to them selves and maximize their profits. If they do not, if they actually want to commit “hot” burglaries, burglaries where residents are home, if they aren’t afraid to attack large, strong, alert men, they are particularly dangerous and violent people, people who want to harm others, who like harming others, who are delighted, energized by the fear, pain and misery of others.

No matter how we see the world, there will always be some that are willing to hurt or kill us for their own reasons, whether that reason is as trivial as the change in our pockets, our jewelry, to rape, or just to hurt someone else as in the “knockout game,” they have always existed and always will. A question everyone should consider is what we are able and willing to do when we meet one or more of them (many of them like to work in packs). Failing to consider that question, and failing to be prepared to do what is necessary to have a workable answer, may determine our survival or our demise.

And no, the police won’t be there to protect you, or to save you.   They will eventually come to pick up the pieces, and perhaps, if they have the time and skill, they’ll one day arrest the criminal. If dead, this will matter not at all to you, and will only cause years of anguish for your survivors.

Because of my military service, my civilian police work, and because of an interest in martial arts and athletics in general, I pursued martial skills. There is, to be sure, great value in practicing any martial art. I am, for example, a fencer: European and Japanese (Kendo and Iaido). While I will be unlikely to ever engage anyone in combat with a sword, the conditioning and skills I learned and maintain are important in any physical confrontation. Timing, speed, anticipation, and an understanding of the use of distance and space are vital in physical combat of any kind. There is also no question those sports have made me much faster than I would have otherwise been.

While I have attained a reasonable level of general unarmed martial skill, I still carry a handgun. I have prepared as well as I am able for physical combat, and my level of daily, reflexive, intentional situational awareness makes that combat even more unlikely. But I cannot rely on it.

I am yet tall, reasonably fit and strong, and my reflexes have not degraded to any obvious degree, but I am no longer 25, or even 35 years old. Now I wear glasses, my heart doesn’t work as well as it once did, my joints protest when I rise in the morning, and for several minutes thereafter. Any criminal watching me for a few minutes after I get out of bed would not consider me a formidable opponent. I have occasional bouts of gout and the occasional sinus infection. I get older every year, but the kind of people that would attack me, or anyone, are always in their teens and early 20s.

In the past, I could engage in 3-5 minutes of hard sparring and recover quickly. Does 3-5 minutes sound like nothing? If you think that, you have no idea of actual fighting. Even with real sparring, where we agree not to seriously, intentionally damage each other, serious bruises, sprains, the occasional broken finger or toe, concussions, and a few days of pain and peeing blood are common.

What we see on TV and the movies is not fighting but choreography. In the real world, a fight that is not over very, very quickly is very, very dangerous. The younger, stronger, more inherently violent person, the person able to take more damage and recover more quickly, will almost certainly win. Beautiful techniques that work at ¾ speed in the dojo often fail spectacularly in reality.

The implications are obvious. For most women, who are always at a physical disadvantage in a fight with most men, and for many men, particularly older men, hand to hand combat is a sucker’s bet. It’s a near sure way to be seriously injured, maimed, crippled or killed. Add weight of numbers, and even the biggest, fittest, most capable men are at a disadvantage.

In Kendo and European fencing, I often met women, smaller, weaker women, who were capable of beating me. They could win because we were engaged in a formalized sport with specific rules that placed a premium on skill, speed, thinking ahead, and correct form. Even though the techniques were based on actual combat, and if done with real weapons would produce mortal wounds, it was still a sport, using practice weapons. As I’ve aged, I’ve met more of these women and girls. Even as they beat me on points, I knew without a doubt–and if they were wise, they knew–I could, at any moment, render them unconscious or seriously injure them with a single blow. That’s physical reality, not sport.

All of these dynamics apply to most men as well. Most men are not trained fighters. Even if they have some martial arts training, most are not skilled in actual fighting, fighting where there are no rules, where there are no inhibitions, and where your opponent really wants to hurt and humiliate you, and if you end up crippled, maimed or dead, so what?

I carry a handgun because I, long ago, understood enough about human nature–an ongoing process–and understanding human nature, asked and answered a very important question: yes, if necessary, I can and will use force to protect myself and others, deadly force if required. I carry a handgun because I cannot defeat, hand to hand, everyone that might wish to harm me, and I don’t want to try.

This is one of the major flaws in reasoning–such as it is–of the disarmament “activist.” If we are not willing and able to take on a criminal, or group of criminals–whether they are unarmed or armed– empty-handed, we are somehow not playing fair. We don’t hold the moral high ground and are uncivilized and contributing to a barbaric, dangerous society. Our carrying of defensive weapons endangers everyone else. We are even cowardly. After all, a real man should be able to easily take out a few punks, right?

Wrong. Dangerously, foolishly wrong.

Why should I have to endanger my health and life to salve the warped consciences of people who not only have no real idea of the issues we discuss, but who are incapable of asking the right questions and formulating rational, reality-based answers? I must make myself easy prey for criminals to make society safe? Knowing my age-imposed physical limitations, I have an obligation to make myself an even more inviting target to sociopaths? Disarming myself is somehow moral?

I live in the real world, and in that world, women are at a physical disadvantage to men. Groups overwhelm individuals. Having the element of surprise–attacking first and with a purpose–matters. Young men beat older men, and the vicious and violent prevail over the gentle and meek. I am neither meek nor unprepared, and I have no obligation to submit myself to the desires of criminals. No one does, nor does the law or morality require, admire or reward it.

Those demanding that the law abiding make themselves easy prey demonstrate blatant immorality, for they draw moral equivalence between the law abiding and honorable who would harm no one, and those that delight in harming the innocent.

I’m not going to try to take anyone on hand-to-hand. Real fighting is deadly dangerous, and anyone imagining it is not is caught up in the world of movies. In our world, people die from single blows. Single blows leave people mentally and physically handicapped. In the real world, when attacked by a stranger, one must always understand that they are fighting for their life, and act accordingly.

If attacked, if I can determine that I have the physical ability to stop or ward off that attack without resorting to deadly force, I’ll surely do it. But should it ever be necessary for me to draw my handgun, I’ll do my best not to have to fire. If I do have to fire, and that decision may be made in milliseconds, I’m prepared to deal with the aftermath, an aftermath that includes me, and those I love, alive and unhurt.

Knowing when to draw, when to shoot, and what to do after are matters of training, long reflection, practice, and for another time. Asking and answering the right questions is always a moral choice.

43 Responses to Questions and Moral Choices

  1. Oh, so sociopaths are criminals now according to you? I don’t know why but I felt that one struck a bit closer than I would have expected. Just because I don’t care about people doesn’t mean I don’t have morals or that I don’t know that being a functional member of society pays better.

    Other than that you are right. Also, don’t worry about fighting “fair”. There are no rules in a real fight, go for kidneys, throat, eyes, nose, whatevs as long as it makes the threat back the fvck off.

    • lolinski, Are you familiar with the actual definition of what a “sociopath” is? If you did, you would not have stated the following:

      lolinski says:
      October 14, 2014 at 13:21

      Just because I don’t care about people doesn’t mean I don’t have morals or that I don’t know that being a functional member of society pays better.

      A sociopath is not someone who does not “care about other people.” It is someone who literally has no empathetic response to emotions: he does NOT have “morals” and/or ethics, but can mimic having one and indeed understands them, thus are more prone to Machiavellian manipulating of others.

      You’re conflating nonchalance and irreverence, with an actual pathological condition.

      Then again, your statement actually maybe an admission that you ARE a sociopath, seeing as how you admit you don’t care, yet you know what traits “pays better,” as in: you don’t care, but can pretend to care, because it gets you by, better.

      xD

      Also often erroneously conflated are “psychopaths.” Sociopaths are willfully, knowingly, consciously ‘evil,’ worse, does NOT care that they are. By contrast, “psychopaths” are unconscious of their behavior & ‘evil’:

      Sociopathy

      There are various contemporary usages of the term. Robert Hare claimed in a 1999 popular science book that sociopathy and psychopathy are often used interchangeably, but in some cases the term sociopathy is preferred because it is less likely than is psychopathy to be confused with psychosis, whereas in other cases which term is used may “reflect the user’s views on the origins and determinates of the disorder”. Hare contended that the term sociopathy is preferred by those that see the causes as due to social factors and early environment, and the term psychopathy preferred by those who believe that there are psychological, biological, and genetic factors involved in addition to environmental factors.[80] Hare also provides his own definitions: he describes psychopathy as not having a sense of empathy or morality, but sociopathy as only differing in sense of right and wrong from the average person.[156][157]

      • In addition, Sociopathy is on the spectrum of anti-social personality disorder. It is often thought to be caused by nurturing deficit or abuse, whereas psychopathy is deemed to be organic (natural) in origin. One is made, the other is born.

    • Whoa calm down there killer. Your most likley not a sociopath- just because you don’t care about others doesn’t automatically equate to socio/phycopathy. Those words get thrown around way to easily these days. If you have morals and function well with society you are most definetly not a sociopath.

      • I thought socioptath was the less dangerous variant of psychopath? Then again I might have misunderstood the terms or something. Bear with me here, this is my third language.

        http://knowledgenuts.com/2013/11/03/the-difference-between-psychopaths-and-sociopaths/

        Regarding misanthropy: I never mentioned a conscience. I thought that was separate from morals. I don’t really feel the need to do right, but I do know that society punishes those who do wrong… so it pays off to be “good”.

        Never did say I was a killer ,been in that situation and am lucky to have gotten out without prison/hospital time, or that I needed to calm down.

    • Just because I don’t care about people doesn’t mean I don’t have morals or that I don’t know that being a functional member of society pays better.

      Then you’re merely a misanthrope, and not a sociopath. A sociopath, by definition, lacks conscience.

  2. AMEN!

    And indeed, words of an informed, enlightened soul:

    Unless one is a true sociopath, someone that has no conscience, no caring whatsoever for others, this is a significant issue. It doesn’t matter that one is absolutely legally and morally justified in taking a life, the voice of conscience is never silent.

      • Hm…

        lolinski says:
        October 14, 2014 at 15:05

        Also, besides conscience the voice of tinnitus is also never quiet.

        Perhaps there maybe a couple of sessions with one Dr. Ewen Cameron, you may have ‘forgotten’??

        .o/

        • Doubt it. Decadent capitalist pig-dogs don’t control my brain. Besides, I am too sealed to be controlled.

          I am disgusted by the whole MKUltra thing, even a generally emotionless person like me knows the difference between right and wrong (though I can’t really feel it). Instead of getting punished or imprisoned they get rewarded, paid and encouraged to fvck people up for life. Then later on instead of them manning up and admiting they hide and give out the smallet slivers of info they have to give. Just like those Kennedy documents that were sealed for what? 70 years? Just enough time for all the involved people to die naturally.

  3. Wow! As a former SP myself, I was rather surprised to see a picture of an SP on the front page of TTAG. Cool stuff. (USAFE, 38 TMW, 38 MDS, 38 SPS, 50 SPS)

    • And no blank adapter on the rifle either! Too many times we figuratively shoot ourselves in the foot with crappy pictures of our profession. (USAFE, 36 SPS)

  4. Well written….I think anyone who either has been in the position (military or civil law enforcement) he has or has taken a proper CCW or training course where the understanding and knowing the law is actually a required part of the training can relate and understand this article.

    One of the best I have read dealing with the decisions (both moral and civil) you may face when you are legally armed and if the use of force becomes a reality. The decision should that time come must be totally understood before you decide to carry a weapon.

  5. Outstanding essay Mike. Very well reasoned. I’ve made a copy for my students to study and reflect upon. Many thanks and I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

  6. ” I was stationed in the United States at a northern base, a place most people considered hardship duty”

    Whynot Minot?

    • Whynot Minot? “Freezin’s the reason”

      Or maybe Grand Forks, ND.

      I was stationed at one for many years, visited the other fairly often. Good times (mostly).

      • Yeah, I’m from MN originally, when in the AF was stationed in Eielson AK. Even up in Alaska we made fun of Minot.

        • I did a tour at Eielson, too, but North Dakota always felt far colder to me, simply because of the wind. We always dressed for the temperature, but the rate of heat loss is far faster when it’s windy.

          Calm and sub-zero cold? Easy to handle.

          Sub-zero cold and 30+ MPH wind? An altogether different story.

        • Was it the 343rd when you were up there? For a while, it seems like they were changing the unit designations every couple of years or so.

          I used to be tasked to do a fenceline check along the base section of the pipeline path every now and then, to make sure the moose hadn’t torn it up. I always took a compact telescoping fishing pole with me. Rough duty.

  7. Meh
    sounds like the prolonged mutterings of a retired bureaucrat, the entire article can be summed up in the final (short) paragraph which will not be repeated here. As for those expressing their faux outrage/butthurt: do you have nothing better to do with your life, like finding gainful employment?

  8. Good read. Pretty much spot on.

    In order to be a criminal, of any kind, one has to have a degree of sociopath or psychopathy to be one.

    Depending on the degree they are in either diagnosis will determine if they can be “reformed”.

    I do not need to suffer from either to have the desire to defend myself. All I need is a bit of self love and a desire to keep breathing.

  9. Great article and well worth reading. Thank you very much for your well thought out post. I will share this link with some of my gun hating friends and see what responses I get.

  10. Very good article!

    I am also an Ex Security Policeman/EST(SAC-Dyess AFB/USAFE- Balikisir Turkey/TAC HQ Langley AFB- Rapid Deployment Force-TAC Command Guard). 25+ Retired State Trooper SWAT.

    I share your mindset and train on a regular basis….and always armed!

  11. here it is in a nutshell from the article itself why I carry a handgun 24/7 365 days a year. Except when sleeping its really near by though.
    “I carry a handgun because I cannot defeat, hand to hand, everyone that might wish to harm me, and I don’t want to try.”
    Im 60, not 18 anymore. I have a few infirmities, not to mention Im a severe diabetic.
    So for me that’s reason enough to carry a handgun.
    Plus as also mentioned I had my training in my youth. Actually all my combat courses were in my late 30s early 40s. I know who what when and where and am very comfortable in my mental processes about maybe having to use a firearm …………….or not.
    With no 2nd guessing should I have to.
    I sleep well at night, well for 3 or 4 hours anyway LOL.

  12. After all, a real man should be able to easily take out a few punks, right?

    Wrong. Dangerously, foolishly wrong.

    My few anti gun friends spew this bile all over the facebook feeds. Be a man and fight using your hands they love to screech on gun topics. I would like them to tell my sister to man up, or my 80+ grandmother, or heck even my grandfather. They should just man up right? Take their beating like men and suffer permanent injury and death just because! I find it to be one of the most disgusting things anti gun people say. It is callous and cold to want to force people to victims to physically or numerically superior attackers.

  13. I’ve been in all in fights. I simply am no longer able to do that. Age weakens us all. If you’re 30 years younger than me and aggressively attacking me then you get shot. Or stabbed. Or ran over with a motor vehicle. Or smacked in the head with a walking stick and pepper sprayed while you’re trying to get up again.

    And I will give your grieving next of kin a lecture about respecting your elders.

    • Never pick a fight with an Old Fart. They won’t fight you, they’ll just kill you…or maim you so badly you’ll wish you were dead.

      And, yes, I’m and Old Fart, too. 😉

  14. Defensor Fortis! Security Police/Forces 1988-2004.(SAC/USAFE/AMC…Phoenix Raven) 1st Sgt 2004-2007. Military Police now falling under LEOSA act. USAF Beta testing issuance of “qualified/retired officer” credentials now.

  15. I’ll echo on how well written. “64 – SAC, Wurtsmith AFB, Northern, Mich.”
    Best shape I was even in. 72 now, and an every day CC. If anything ever
    happens today, my life is close to over – no worry about it. Nor any pity for
    anyone who may cause me to ‘present arms’!. Range – indoor and outdoor user.
    still practice often and damn good at 10 – 15 meters and closer. The hell with
    any socio or psycho semantics, I got one perhaps two good face to face left.
    Someone won’t walk away from it!

  16. Well written, well thought out. Thank you. There are many reasons to carry. I carry primarily for the safety of others who cannot defend themselves, less so for my own well being, although I recognize the catch 22 that since I now carry I need to defend myself to keep my firearm from getting taken and used against myself and others. After Newtown, I decided that more of us need to carry to stop attacks like this. Should someone visit violence against someone in my presence, I will not stand idly by but will intervene and I will try not to let any disturbance of conscience trouble me afterwards.

  17. What a great read! Thank you!

    You touch upon pretty much all points of consideration both for the lawfully armed citizen and for those who have not realized the need to protect themselves (because we have the police… and that’s their job!). I wish more people lived in the reality the way it is and not in the movie-cultured reality.

    On the Aftermath – I know from attending Massad Ayoob’s classroom class that what makes the aftermath so difficult to bear is not courts, expense, bankruptcy or guilt for harming another human being – it’s the reaction of society to what you’ve done and the almost complete isolation and condemnation society subjects you to.

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