“Johnson City Officer David Smith had just arrived at Southern Tier Imaging when MRI technician James Clark, 43, wildly ran up to him before punching him several times as he was trying to exit his vehicle,” nydailynews.com reports. “During the attack witnesses said Clark managed to somehow grab Smith’s weapon and repeatedly open fire until the 40-caliber duty’s magazine was spent. Once Officer Smith was down, then the suspect shot him two more times . . . Clark was consequently killed by a responding officer with a single gunshot wound. He died a couple of hours later in surgery.” Officer Smith died on the scene. Let’s talk about onions. . .
Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Self-defense strategies have layers. Or at least they should. In the tragic incident above, Officer Smith is getting out of his cruiser. Clark catches him off-guard and launches a physical attack. Clark gets ahold of Officer Smith’s weapon and shoots him. To do so, Clark penetrated three layers of defense.
First, Smith didn’t see him coming. I don’t know how someone “wildly” runs up to a vehicle but I assume it involves a large measure of speed and surprise. I suspect Officer Smith didn’t do what everyone should do before they exit a vehicle: stop. Look around. Assess your environment.
Again, transitions are always the most dangerous part of any journey. The transition from your house (or police station) to your vehicle. The transition from the gym to your car. The transition from your office to a bar and vice versa. If someone’s going to attack you, they’re most likely to strike when you’re between “safe” places.
Your car is a relatively safe place (aside from car crashes). If you see something wrong you can drive away. If that wrong thing attacks you while you’re in your car you have safety glass and some metal protecting your from, say, punches. Your vehicle creates a layer of security. Leave and you have one less.
Second, you have your situational awareness, which should increase in both intensity and scope when you leave your car. In other words, it’s a good idea to look around and see where danger could be lurking, both near and far. Are there a pair of stationary feet under a nearby car? Someone hanging out across the street? Anything untoward?
It’s not paranoia; it’s a personal safety habit that quickly become subconscious. After you’ve scanned your environs for possible threats you’re free to take your situational awareness down a notch or two. But once you lose your ability to return to your car, you’ve lost another layer of security.
Third, you have your ability to run from or attack an attacker – remembering that it might be impossible to draw your gun. If your assailant uses speed, surprise and violence of action, your physical prowess in a fight could be your next line of defense; the next layer of that allows you to get to your final layer of defense: your gun.
Or not. The physical attack may be so brutal, your ability to sustain injuries or launch a counter-attack so limited, that you lose. All you can do is hope that you survive your injuries. In that case, it’s a very good thing if your firearm is concealed. Because you don’t want your enemy or enemies to get it – given that they’ve shown no compunction about using life-threatening violence against you.
Which brings us to open carry . . .
Cops, like the unfortunate officer described above, open carry. They usually do so with retention holsters; holsters specifically designed to frustrate a gun grab. If you open carry you should use a retention holster too – depending on a number of factors. But first . . .
Retention holsters come in three levels: 1, 2 and 3. Each level indicates the number of motions needed to extract a firearm. A Level 1 holster holds the firearm with friction alone. You pull the gun out. One motion. A gun owner using a Level 2 must perform a second, separate motion to extract the gun: push a lever, press a button, twist the gun, etc. A Level 3 firearm requires a third motion; usually pushing a guard or “hood” away from the top of the holster.
Retention holsters are a double-edged sword (so to speak). The more motions you have to perform to extract your firearm the less likely it is that someone will be able to remove it and use it against you. That someone could be a bad guy. But it could be you, too. Unless you practice using a Level 2 or 3 retention holster – a lot and properly – you could find yourself unable to draw your weapon safely, quickly and efficiently. In certain situations that would really suck.
Level 2 and 3 retention holsters are bulky and awkward; they stick out from your side like a motorcycle sidecar. Sitting in a tight chair is an issue – which makes drawing your gun while sitting in a chair problematic. Retention Level 2 and 3 holsters also aren’t the most beautiful holsters in the world, either. And if you’re going into a victim-rich (i.e. gun free) zone, you can’t ditch your gat and pull your shirt out to cover your empty holster for a stealthy entrance (as you can with most non-retention outside-the-waistband holsters).
Even so . . .
If you’re open carrying I highly recommend carrying in a Level 2 retention holster – at least. If you don’t, kick your situational awareness up a notch or three. Keep an eye on anyone getting close to your gun, especially in stores and other public places. If you have the slightest suspicion a gun grab is in the offing (I’ve seen people do it “just for fun”) turn your body so that your gun is harder to reach.
And yes, carrying a gun with a manual safety adds an additional layer of security – and an extra step for you to screw-up. But hey, no one said this open carry thing was going to be easy or as safe as carrying concealed. As always when it comes to guns, there are ways you can minimize the risk. Were he alive today, I’m sure Officer Smith would recommend risk reduction via a retention holster for anyone open carrying a firearm. You have been warned.