I was pleased to see that my earlier post on off-body carry seems to have spawned a bit of debate on the topic. Although some of the people who replied raised some good points, I still think that if one wanted to play the numbers, sticking to on-body carry would be best in most situations for almost everyone Why? Well, people tend to be creatures of habit. I’m sure this is, evolutionarily speaking, a net benefit: when there’s a certain task you do on a daily basis the details of which are intimately familiar, people go on autopilot when doing it. The actions and responses just flow automatically, freeing your mind to work on other problems. If this wasn’t successful for us on some level, we wouldn’t do it . . .
Things get tricky, however, when we’re in a typical, everyday situation that we normally address with habit but with one or two variables changed slightly. Not enough to take us out of our comfort zone, but just enough to mean that our automatic responses aren’t able to fully comprehend the new situation. That’s when we get into trouble.
Mostly this has to do with knowing my own limitations; I know from experience that if a distraction comes along at the wrong moment, something slightly out of the ordinary, things can go sideways fast. Like the time in high school, when I was so distracted by helping a friend with a broken leg into my dad’s Cadillac El Dorado that I drove off with a stack of textbooks on the roof (chaos and a flurry of paper ensued, not to mention a fairly abysmal grade in chemistry that year).
There was also the time I was at Gunsite Academy and picked up an extra pistol that someone had thoughtfully left for me in the outhouse. Yep, despite the fact that everyone there took firearms very seriously, and that the instructors warned us at least two or three times to be careful about such things, someone still left one behind. And yes, I returned it to its rightful owner without causing her too much embarrassment.
Or there’s the recent case of a security guard in Hong Kong.
Embattled security services firm G4S yesterday made its second blunder in less than two months after a guard left a fully loaded shotgun beside an automatic teller machine….
At about 7am, a guard was seen leaving a Remington shotgun next to the ATM in Nam Shan Estate. The weapon was later retrieved by the firm….
A G4S spokeswoman confirmed yesterday’s incident and said the gun had been retrieved.
I don’t know exactly what played out here. But, assuming there was no malicious intent or drug-induced impairment involved, the general pattern sounds all too familiar. With two simple tasks done everyday, but not necessarily together (carrying a shotgun safely as part of a job and getting money from an ATM) as the setup, I can envision a likely scenario:
The shotgun is in the way when reaching for the wallet. Maybe I’ll just set it down for a second. Wait, that’s the wrong card, I need the one from Bank of America. Oh, there it is. Punch in code. Press one for Cantonese. No I don’t need any stamps. HK$100. Yes, I agree to the fee–co-worker in truck yells, “Hey are you done yet? Dispatch just called, we need to make a pickup!” “Yeah, almost done!”–grab the cash, grab the card, okay now quicklyrunbacktothetruck, jump in, slam the door, drive off….
Shotgun still leaning against the booth.
Seems like an easy enough thing to remember, doesn’t it? I mean, carrying a shotgun around is something even more awkward and bulky than a small handgun. It’s not something easily forgettable, like what you had for dinner last Wednesday, or whether or not your helicopter was shot down by an RPG.
Failures of prospective memory typically occur when we form an intention to do something later, become engaged with various other tasks, and lose focus on the thing we originally intended to do. Despite the name, prospective memory actually depends on several cognitive processes, including planning, attention, and task management. Common in everyday life, these memory lapses are mostly annoying, but can have tragic consequences. Every summer several infants die in hot cars when parents leave the car, forgetting the child is sleeping quietly in the back seat….
Many examples of prospective memory involve intending to do something at a particular time, such as going to a doctor’s appointment, or on a particular occasion, such as congratulating a friend the next time you see her. However, much of what we intend to do in our everyday lives, whether at home or at work, involves habitual tasks repeated over time. And when it comes to these kinds of habitual tasks, our intentions may not be explicit. We usually don’t, for example, form an explicit intention to insert the key in the ignition every time we drive a car—the intention is implicit in our habitual routine of driving.
…[I]nterruptions and disruptions to habitual processes, which are irritating enough in everyday life, can be fatal…. In fact, several airline catastrophes have occurred because pilots were interrupted while performing critical preflight tasks – after the interruption was over, the pilots skipped to the next task, not realizing that the interrupted tasks hadn’t been finished…. [W]hen a problem arises with whatever task we’re currently focused on, we become vulnerable to cognitive tunneling, forgetting to switch our attention back to the other tasks at hand.
Dr. Dismukes mentions a few ways to help people remember to focus on whatever dangerous task they’re engaged in — avoid multitasking, use checklists, complete critical tasks first. And while I’m sure astronauts, pilots, and surgeons find those suggestions helpful, I suspect they’re not so helpful when we’re talking about people going about their day, juggling phone calls, grabbing meals, getting cash from the ATM, dealing with recalcitrant children, and all the other must-dos we find necessary, but for which we don’t quite have enough time in the day to complete. We’re lucky if people do a press check on their handgun before heading out the door or checking the tire pressure and oil level in their cars on a monthly basis.
So, when it comes to introducing a tool that has potential to cause great harm if misused into the hectic daily mess of my own life (and, I suspect, others’ lives, too) I think keeping things simple is the best policy. And here, that means gun on body in easily accessible location, not someplace where it can be easily forgotten.
Of course, in the right context, everything I say can be wrong. But you knew that, right?