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.