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There are people who believe that everything can be solved by negotiation. If there’s a conflict, there are two sides. If there are two sides, those sides can negotiate a settlement. One side gives up something. The other side gives up something. They reach a compromise. Conflict is defused or, hopefully, eliminated. Yes, well, Martin Luther King carried a revolver. There are times when “compromise” is just another word for surrender, whereby you lose everything and gain nothing. Raise the debt limit and raise taxes? No. Hand over the wallet and get shot? No. Ah but—you don’t want to shoot someone just in case they might shoot you. How do you know it’s time to make a stand? The obvious answer is . . .

You don’t. Self-defense, like life, is a crap shoot. You can bet rationally—calculating the odds of dying from a lethal threat based on common sense, experience, study, instruction and practice—and still lose.

You can encounter an armed attacker, brandish your gun, warn them verbally, shoot them in self-defense and then, horrifically, discover the truth of President Johnson’s dictum “A decision is only as good as the information it’s based on.” You did the right thing based on bad intel.

Alternatively, you can decide not to meet force with force and pay for that decision with your life. Or, worse, the life of a loved one. Either way, you can spend the rest of your days living with soul-sucking regret.

Are there examples where victims give muggers their valuables and get drilled? Yes. Are there examples where armed self-defenders take a life unnecessarily? Yes. Which is more likely? Does that matter? Either you’re going to make a mistake or you’re not.

Let’s not forget the other side of this: you could use a gun to successfully defend your life or the life of a loved one. That happens too. In fact, I’m thinking that’s the reason you keep and/or carry a gun.

So we’re back to the original question: how do you know it’s time to make a stand? My opinion only, but I reckon there are three main criteria:

1. You’re in life-threatening danger

Millions of years of evolution are working in your favor; your “spidey senses” will warn you of a potentially lethal threat. Body language, dress, movements, tone of voice, etc. As long as you’re even somewhat “situationally aware,” you’ll be able to process the bad guy’s attack cues.

They might stare at you. Their eyes might dart around wildly. They may adopt a fighting stance. They might be shifting back and forth on their feet. They might be holding a weapon in a threatening manner (always a good clue). They might have busted down your door (another sure sign). Or you just might “have a feeling.”

That said, you can’t always trust your instincts. It gets worse. You may not see it coming; the Taliban aren’t the only bad guys who ambush their enemies. And you may not be able to do anything about a threat—whether or not you have access to a gun.

Draw your gun when a reasonable person (that’s you) would believe that their life is in imminent danger, and imminence is imminent. But don’t get gun-focused. Follow the rabbi’s sage advice: a gunfight is a fight with a gun. Be psychologically prepared to do whatever it takes to survive.

And the first thing it takes is avoidance. If you’re in life-threatening danger, get out of it. Which brings us green light number two . . .

2. You have no way to escape 

A trapped animal will fight. And so they should; there’s no real alterative. If you’re cornered—and you should do everything possible not to be—you need to come out of your corner fighting.

Unfortunately, the bad guy knows this (been there done that). A trapped victim presents MORE of a danger to a perp than a vic in a clean, well-lighted place. Which makes it even MORE important to let loose the dogs of war if there’s no way out. Or . . . not.

This could be the world’s worst feedback loop. Acquiescence is not the answer. Probably. Speed, surprise and violence is. Maybe. You might not have a credible chance at self-defense. Or you might.

Sorry to be so vague, but life is nasty, brutish and short—and profoundly chaotic. Whatever rules of engagement you adopt for armed self-defense could well disappear in the heat of battle. When push comes to shove, and I hope it never does, you may operate on pure instinct.

Counter that tendency with a single, basic understanding: a gun gives you options. You have options. At the same time, know this: hesitation kills. Capitulate or counter. Or capitulate and then counter. Do something.

3. The cost of defeat is high

I’m constantly amazed that gun gurus’ self-defense advice assumes you’ll be alone when you’re threatened. I reckon the odds that you—biker-bar and dark alley-averse non-criminal type that you are—will be with your family at the time of attack are at least even. That changes everything.

If you’re with kids or an unarmed spouse when a threat materializes, your escape options are radically limited. You ever tried telling two children to run like hell [away from you] out the clear blue sky? Not gonna happen. Not quickly enough to make a difference.

That doesn’t mean that surrender is the best or only way out of imminent danger.

There are evil people in this world who would kill you and/or rape your family for no particular reason. Just ’cause. How do you differentiate a “normal” bad guy from a psychopath—before they engage in psychopathic slaughter?

You can’t. And there are times when you shouldn’t even try. If your children or significant other are in harm’s way and there’s no way out, you may want to err on the side of caution. Remembering brandishing in and of itself may help you solve a problem. Fingers off the trigger boys!

As I’ve said in previous posts, nothing you own’s worth your life. There is no dishonor in losing a battle to win the war. But never expect the bad guy/guys to be satisfied by your wallet or valuables. Or that surrender will give you time to escape. Or that you don’t have any choice.

The power to walk away is the only real power you have in any negotiation. If you think of a self-defense firearm as your power to escape a lethal threat with your life, you need never surrender. Unless you do.

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  1. The proper title of this post should have been Don’t Negotiate with Pirates, Unless you have to.

    Pirates are into the money while terrorists are into the politics. Sometime you can negotiate with certain kinds of terrorists but there is no point in negotiating with a pirate except whether he gives you a lifeboat and supplies to make it to shore. You can often make pirates go away by becoming the porcupine and making it too painful for them to bother with you. Certain kinds of terrorists may not care and are willing to die along with you.

  2. “terrorists may not care and are willing to die along with you.”

    I’m not willing to die along with a terrorist, pirate, mugger, burglar, or common a$$hole with an attitude, but I am willing, if need be, to facilitate their meeting with the Almighty.

  3. “Ah but—you don’t want to shoot someone just in case they might shoot you.”

    Well, speaking from a purely philosophical standpoint (never having had to make that decision and G-d willing never will have to make it) I got no problem with shooting someone “just in case“. I’m sorry but if you are going to point a weapon at me and demand my money or my wife I have no choice but to think that you are ready to shoot me and my loved ones. Unlike George Lucas, I’m not going to give Greedo the first shot.

  4. As far as I am concerned, if a someone draws a gun or threatens me or mine with a weapon I will shoot them.
    If someone threatens deadly force in a robbery they are creating an implied contract, “give me the valuables, and I will leave you alone.” IMNSHO anyone who believes them is a fool. I believe that once they have have made the decision to threaten deadly force, then I cannot believe the implied contract to not harm us. They have already demonstrated that they do not live by the rules of society by committing armed robbery.
    One a weapon is flashed or even implied (such as a hand in a coat-pocket pointed at you) I believe that you must treat this as a threat to your life.

    I just wish I had commented on this earlier so others would see this comment and offer their thoughts.

  5. Here’s the litmus test, fortunately you can do the test before the incident occurs. Note: this also applies to other use of force issues which you may discover that you are facing in the future, not related to street crime.

    > NEVER, repeat, NEVER, let the bad guys gain or keep leverage over you, or you will regret it if they let you live. If they do, you will never forgive yourself and you will never allow it to happen again, to yourself or anyone else. At the cost of your life.

    There are things and people that are worth more than your life.

  6. Han Solo was right to shoot first. There was a gun pointed at him. Likewise, if there is a gun pointed at me, I will make every attempt to shoot first. Same for a knife, ball bat, billy club, or any other weapon. Someone pointing a weapon at me is making a threat on my life.

  7. I would rather have 12 people judge me, than have 6 people carry me! I am legally carrying, and glad I am. I have options…..


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