For twelve years of my life I received a Quaker education. For better or worse, I adopted Moses Brown’s motto for my own: For the Honor Of Truth. As for adhering to the Quaker teachings of pacifism and nonviolence, let’s just say that TTAG’s corporate motto is Speed, Surprise and Violence of Action. But the Friends taught me something else that stuck. Something that has helped me appreciate Christmas and improve my self-defense skills . . .

The moment of silence.

It’s simple enough. Before you do something, you stop whatever you’re doing and have a moment of silence. During which you do nothing except remain still and silent.

If you’re in a group, the person who called for the moment of silence decides when to end the interregnum. In the extended play version (a.k.a., a Quaker meeting), the designated thinker ends the silence by shaking hands with the person on their left and right, once the silence caller gets “a sense of the meeting” (or it’s time to do something else).

The moment of silence is more profound than it sounds (so to speak). The moment– which I won’t call MOS to avoid annoying our optic-oriented readers — is a time to reflect on what went before and/or what’s coming next. Or a moment to focus on nothing at all; to live “in the moment” and clear your mind.

When I shoot, I insert a moment of silence between aiming and shooting. I use that fraction of a second to calm myself. To sense the transition between nothing happening and the explosion that sends the bullet downrange. Sometimes I swear I can feel the lead begin its journey, before it exits the barrel.

Adding a moment of silence to my shooting not only improves my accuracy and, strangely, speed, it also provides an important tool for armed self-defense.

There are gun owners who declare “If I clear leather, I’m going to shoot.” Not me. Situations change in the blink of an eye. Between drawing your gun and pressing play, a knife-wielding bad guy may I-spy your gat and freeze on the spot. At which point he or she stops being an imminent threat, and may not need ballistic perforation.  By the same token, an innocent can move between you and your target at the last possible second.

The Quakers wouldn’t quite put it this way, but shit happens.

By placing a moment of silence between aiming and firing, I give myself psychological space to decide to fire. I know some of you consider that a dangerous delay. Don’t knock it ’til you master it. And then time it. Besides, even if the moment of silence adds half a second to my response time, it could be worth it in terms of accuracy and morality.

Yes there is that.

I’m not saying I’m going to aim at a bad guy and say, “Nope. Can’t do it.” I’m saying I [hope] I’m going to pause to make sure the human being in my sights still poses an imminent, credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm. If I know they do, shooting them becomes a morally defensible choice. Not an automatic reaction.

Mastering the moment of silence has also helped me develop an appreciation for the holiday season. Unlike New Year’s, which we celebrate by making noise, the hush of Christmas opens a space for quiet contemplation. A time to consider where we’ve come from, where we’re going and, crucially, why we’re going there.

Despite the derision aimed at religious gun owners, the fact that they’re armed isn’t the crucial consideration. The most important element of their armed self-defense? A dedication to peace. By wishing good will to those who wish good will to us and having the motive, means and opportunity to oppose those who do not, gun owners can live with a sense of moral clarity. I reckon that’s something worth taking a moment to think about.

Merry Christmas.

42 Responses to Random Thoughts About Christmas, Quakers and Armed Self-Defense

  1. Very nice, Robert. Not sure too many folks would think of it in the moment of extreme danger, but it’s something to practice all the time, with each action and choice. That’s what I’ve done for a very long time. I ask myself if this action/choice is right to do. I ask myself especially if it will or will not actually harm someone else. I wind up choosing NOT to do a great many things.

  2. I won’t draw unless somebody/something needs shooting.
    That need might dissipate in less time than it takes to draw, aim and pull the trigger. If so, great, I can save myself a lot of grief by not pulling the trigger.

    As for deliberately taking a moment to reflect on the situation, I’m the slowest guy at the monthly pistol matches by a good margin, my body is much slower than my brain to start with.

  3. Merry Christmas from PA

    “The state of Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn in 1682, as a safe place for Quakers to live and practice their faith”

    • That doesn’t work in reality. You point your gun at the guy to force him into a moment of silence to drop his knife and reconsider. Of course you shoot immediately if they’re within the 21-foot danger zone, but there is a reason why there are millions of DGUs per year and only about 10000 people are shot to death a year.

  4. As a Combat Infantryman in Viet Nam I quickly figured out that (with the aid of adrenalin) time slows down & you have the necessary decision time in a life or death situation.
    You must only, in advance, be sure of your actions in response to a threat. Also be sure of your responsibility to defend those that depend on your courage & responsibility.

  5. “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.”

    — Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama (2001)

    The Dalai Lama would prefer that you shoot for the leg instead of the head, but then again, he never claimed any gun knowledge.

      • or, as Ron White says; “In Texas we have the death penalty and we USE it. If you come to Texas and kill someone we will kill you back.” I like the idea of the MOS, hadn’t thought of that before. I will now.

      • Serenity on a firefly.
        Three questions every Quaker, Amish or pacifist should answer every day.

        1. Is murder a sin?

        2. Is suicide a sin?

        3, If you’re attacked and do not defend yourself, explain why you are not doing both number 1 and 2 ?

  6. “The most important element of their armed self-defense? A dedication to peace. By wishing good will to those who wish good will to us and having the motive, means and opportunity to oppose those who do not…”

    That right there is a great response to anyone’s critical inquiry about our choice to be armed. I am going to keep that available as my “elevator speech”.

  7. Although I admire your attempt at remaining as level-headed as possible during a possible self defense encounter I disagree with your threat assessment criteria in one significant area. You characterize a suspect who freezes as no longer being an “imminent threat”.
    As long as any perp remains in control of a weapon ( of any type ) they retain the option of re-engaging the attack and finishing what they started. Whether they freeze or not means little or nothing as long as they retain the means to kill you.
    If the sight of your gun at the ready causes them to do anything less than to overtly DISARM themselves then they haven’t give up the option of killing you. IOW, you instruct the perp to put the knife down and the perp lives, remain there holding the knife in a threatening manner expect to be shot.

  8. I grew up in the Evangelical Quaker church. It’s a bit different than the silent quakers, but has some of the foundatonal elements. They still have that moment of silence which was actually one of my favorite times during the service as it was a time to reflect.

    There were actually quite a few gun owners in the church and a bunch of us in the church joined the military. Some members of the church were not fans of that, but it’s not their choice. There were also a few that believed in self defense and violence to save life was not a problem.

  9. This post may be the best thing you’ve written here in a good while.

    Of course it does not have to be a long moment of silence. As a perceptive commenter above said, adrenaline expands time. And I think that most people would know if they must fire instantly, if that is indeed the case.

    Merry and Peaceful Christmas.

  10. Merry Christmas. Training is important. “Clear leather and pull trigger” is not the right way to train or approach a DGU. Had i done that, i would have likely shot an innocent bystander who ran between the bad guys shooting at me. If you arent yhe “calm cool collected” type (and don’t lie to yourself, you know who you are), you need to kearn to be. Force on force training, being a volunteer firefighter/EMT, etc are goid ways to kear n ti deal with stress.

  11. Yeah keep calm and carry on. I’ve been pretty good as an adult in a crisis(terrible as a kid). Shite happens. I’ve been in some perilous situations being unarmed and didn’t freak out-so nothing changes with a gun on my person.

      • It works so well with Western slang, as in “Git yer gat!” “Got ‘er!”

        Or maybe “Is that a gat in yer gut, or are ya jus’ happy to see me?”

      • BTW, the term also arose from gang use in the Prohibition period, when the Thompson was regarded as a “street gatling”, “gat” for short. It’s one of those kool convergences of terms in languages.

  12. Rather than a moment of silence, I go with the flame and the void — much like the moment of silence, but it doesn’t require doing nothing, so it begins the moment you decide there’s a threat and continues until the threat is over. In the meantime, everything extraneous to the threat situation goes into the flame, including your emotions, so you can react as necessary without distraction.

    Some of you will recognize the flame and void as being a Robert Jordan thing, but I encountered a handgun instructor who applied it to threat situations in much the same way as RF’s moment of silence. To apply the moment of silence concept, the “moment” is not separate from the threat encounter but includes it while excluding everything irrelevant.

    The thing about both these is that you have to learn to live it or it will never work at the moment you really need it. I’ve been working on that for a few years by trying to apply it to any crisis situation (so far including a lawnmower breaking and throwing a blade, a kitchen fire, and facing an incoming ‘rogue’ wave with no escape). It’s not hard to do when on the firing line; it’s not so easy when something going wrong takes you unaware.

    I commend the concept, whether you think “moment of silence” or “flame and void” (or as a kibbitzer looking over my shoulder just suggested, “the Cross and the Void”).

  13. My preacher dad used a Quaker story in sermons sometimes, about the pacifist Quaker holding a thief at gunpoint and the bad guy protested that he was supposed to be nonviolent. ‘I am’ the Quaker said, ‘but thou art standing where I am about to shoot’.

  14. I just learned that I’m with RF on this one. Was taking a walk in the neighborhood and was surprised by a dog snarling and running at me right through the gap in a neighbor’s fence (not someone I know). He was quite close (within 10 feet) as I drew, jerking my body to the side to get some distance. He overshot me and when I squared off he stopped, still snarling. Index finger remained on trigger guard. I (eventually) was able to leave, untouched.

    I know I was justified to shoot- otherwise I wouldn’t have drawn. Having said that, I’m glad that I didn’t.

    Oh, for anyone interested: gen III glock 19, tritium night sites, appendix carry w/ a minimalistic holster (Zachariah). Long time lurker, first time poster. Most of my family/friends are antis- I’d much rather hear your thoughts, gentlemen.

  15. You do what you need to do Ned.

    0.5 seconds is a long time in a fight…any fight. The axiom “action is faster than reaction” is very true.

    Delph Bryce could draw and deliver an accurate shot in 0.25 seconds. A bad guy with a gun out is probably going to fire as he sees you draw. That takes less than 0.5 seconds.

    You are already at a disadvantage in a gunfight that you didn’t start. I would hesitate to increase a disadvantage by pausing. A methodical hesitation is still hesitation and could coat you dearly.

    I believe Mas Ayoob has stated and many old time gunfighter echoed that the person who shoots first usully wins, whether the first shot connects or not.

    To each his own.

  16. Meh. Sounds like arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Yes, if something material changes in the millisecond between drawing and firing, then don’t fire. How likely is that? Not very. At least, not very, legitimately. That is, if there is enough time in the period for events to change that drastically and for you to discern them accurately, then it’s unlikely that that’s what actually happened at all. More likely is that you drew prematurely in the first place and your second thoughts kicked in just in time.

    • “More likely is that you drew prematurely in the first place and your second thoughts kicked in just in time.”

      I agree. It seems unlikely ( but not impossible ) that the threat status would go from:(A) the need for deadly force to…
      (B) just the opposite within the extremely short time it takes to draw a gun.

      Not saying it doesn’t happen.

  17. One term for this mindfulness is “zanchin”, sometimes translated as “remaining mind.” It is often described as stillness *after* something happens, but that’s misleading. It’s being in the situation, not in yr head. Your mind comes around to “just” doing.

    To remain, the mind had to be there during the encounter. “Zanchin”, as the prezent mind, remaining, is a comment; ridiculous unless something was present already.

    I’m suspicious of third-hand pop culture fetishizing the mysterious east. First-hand reports from people who found something are more compelling. With that disclaimer, the best take I’ve seen on “zanchin”, is in the book “Moving Zen” … a book about training to find that calm awareness in the midst of chaos and movement.

    Of course, once you see it, you see that it’s everywhere, like in a Quaker moment of silence. Maybe the strangeness of a foreign culture or unfamiliar practice lets you see something that’s too familiar to notice in what you already know.

    Or, get a ration of crap for declining to finish a roll n recover drill with commitment, after screwing up the first part. After you’ve shown you know better, and can do better (at the practising, not necessarily the roll), that’s the standard. So much to be learned from one moment.

  18. “Between drawing your gun and pressing play, a knife-wielding bad guy may I-spy your gat and freeze on the spot”

    And kill the next person he chooses to victimize. Drawandfire is a single word. I did not see him freeze. Prove I did.

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