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“The harder I train, the luckier I get.” Well they would say that, wouldn’t they? Gun gurus I mean.  Battle-readiness is the only part of the gunfighting process they can control. And improve. Steadily. Invariably. Profitably. And it’s certainly true that the harder you train, the more options you have at game time, when the best laid plans of heavily armed men often go awry. But gun gurus are not stupid. Like professional poker players, they know that luck is a bitch. As the rabbi cautions, “You can do everything right and still lose a gunfight.” Bottom line: most experts believe you can’t teach luck. Me, I’m not so sure . . .

Des Moines police say an officer responding to reports of a man with a gun at the KCCI-TV studios mistakenly fired at a cameraman.

KCCI says the shot missed and no one was hurt.

Police say KCCI employees heard loud bangs and breaking glass and called police. A cameraman, whom KCCI identifies as Spencer Vaughn, was outside the station on a cell phone to dispatchers.

Police say an officer mistook the phone for a gun and fired at Spencer.

There’s an old Zen koan with a simple refrain: good luck, bad luck, who knows? Spencer was unlucky to have been working on Wednesday night. He was lucky that the vandal breaking car windows didn’t see him. He was unlucky that the cop did. He was lucky the officer missed him. And so on.

What if Spencer had been armed in that dark parking lot, and drew his gun as a precaution against the guy who loved the sound of breaking glass? If Mr. Spencer had mad shooting skills, he may have returned fire and killed a cop. Oops! And what if the vandal had also been armed? Would he have returned perceived incoming fire? At whom?

The number of variables in this theoretical scenario are staggering, including geography, lighting and relative positioning. The same swirling mass of possibilities afflicts any gunfight. Variables that were determined long before the outbreak of hostilities. Interacting variables in constant flux. The smallest change in any one factor—the way Spencer raised his cell phone—can significantly alter the outcome.

Yes, combat training plays a key role. But it’s only one part of a larger mosaic. And in certain circumstances, training can work against you. Ask the unnamed cop in question: reflexive reactions are fast, but they’re not always appropriate. And you don’t always get the chance to use your gunfighting skills, Not to put too fine a point on it, the best training in the world won’t help you if you’re already fucked.

Despite the cult of the gunfighter, there’s a better way to alter the fundamental, seemingly uncontrollable odds of surviving a gun fight. A method for “making your own luck” that’s more important than honing your force-on-force skills to Chuck Norris-like levels. Don’t have one. Don’t have a gunfight.

Unfortunately, there’s no statistical evidence supporting the notion that conflict avoidance beats gunfighting competence. It’s the same problem bedeviling people promoting concealed carry as crime prevention: how do you measure something that doesn’t happen? Only worse, ’cause avoidance doesn’t enter the gunfighting discussion. But don’t let the lack of facts cloud a common sense conclusion: if you avoid a gunfight, you win!

This strategy requires the same mindset preached by the Lords of Readiness. To avoid real gunfights, you have to actively look for potential gunfights. You have to imagine how, when and where a gunfight might occur. The difference: you have to focus your mind on how not to be there when and where the gunfight occurs. If you can do that, your odds of winning—defined as not dying—are 100 percent.

If Mr. Spencer had considered the totality of the situation he faced for a minute, he might have thought “I shouldn’t be anywhere near the person breaking car windows.” It’s the “here by dragons” school of non-gunfighting. Pay attention to the map, while remembering that the map is not the territory. If a situation “reads” like it has the potential to erupt into gunplay, don’t go there.

The counter-argument: sometimes a gunfight finds you. Yeah, well, sometimes. But not most times. While Hollywood would have you believe that we live in a world of spree killers and well-armed psychotics, most gunfights occur right where you’d expect: in dingy bars. Or on the street where drug deals are going down. Or at high value targets, like a jewelry store, bank or late night gas station or convenience store.

Ah, but you can’t shut yourself away, can you? You can reduce the odds of being in a gunfight to zero (ish) by never leaving your house. Engaging in human society involves visiting jewelry stores and banks and gas stations and convenience stores. Lest we forget, Mr. Spencer was at work when poor police marksmanship saved his bacon. Yes, but—

The odds of gunplay are relative. Bad bars are more dangerous than good bars. Pawn shops are more of a target than mid-market jewelry stores, which are less of a target than upmarket jewelry stores, which have armed security guards. Some jobs attract more whackos than others. You can play the odds. In fact you do, whether your know it or not. Whether you’re armed or not.

It’s not pure luck. You can influence the odds. Mr. Spencer had a choice. He could have chosen not to leave the building (or go into it), which would have increased reduced the odds of being shot more or less completely. You can choose not to hang out in seedy bars, shop in low-rent pawns shops or buy your drugs at a crack house. You can choose to avoid stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places, as the rabbi is wont to say (and say and say).

The harder you work to avoid a gunfight, the greater your chances of winning. This rule extends to the conflict itself. If you are about to have a gunfight, it’s best to take aggressive action not to have it.

If you see a threat coming, if you have the space and there’s no one you’d leave behind, leave. Put a solid object between you and your potential aggressor. If the threat becomes imminent, shout something. “Stop!” Or, in Mr. Spencers case, “Officer! Over here!” If you can’t leave, deescalate the situation as best you can. If you can’t leave or deescalate and you’re in imminent danger, take out your weapon (early), seek cover and issue a warning.

If you have to fight, fight. Otherwise, don’t. It’s worth repeating: the last thing you want to do in a gunfight is have one.

Following this advice assiduously could lead a person into passivity, paranoia and agoraphobia. But not following it risks relying on your gunfighting skills and determination for survival. As much as I love guns and training and thinking about armed self-defense, I’d rather not go there, thanks. Why push my luck?

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  1. "Murphy's Laws of War" said it best: In combat, anything you do can get you killed, including doing nothing.

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