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“Four people killed during a pharmacy store robbery in suburban New York City, including a teenager due to graduate high school this week, were shot at very close range by a dangerous suspect intent on stealing painkillers,” our friends at the AP report. “Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer [said] police patrols would be deployed near small pharmacies until a suspect is apprehended.” Yeah, that’s going to do it. Aside from railing against a state that infringes on Americans’ god-given right to armed self-defense, how about this: if you have a gun you must be ready, willing and able to use it. To do that, you have to master the grieving process . . .

Life is a constant grieving process. New job? Kid entering puberty? Switching from PC to Mac? New car? 40th birthday? You have to let go of the old before you can embrace the new. We do so in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

To maintain enough presence of mind to act responsibly and effectively in an armed self-defense situation, you have to drop your attachment to the non-armed self defense reality that preceded the event. You have to grieve for peace and prepare for war. And you have seconds to do it. Tear through them.

1. Denial

Denial is an instinctive, instant and sometimes overwhelming response to life-threatening danger. This isn’t happening. And if it isn’t happening, I don’t have to do anything. So . . . I won’t. We saw this “deer caught in the headlights” non-response at the Florida School Board shooting, where not one soul ran out of the auditorium.

Freezing in the face of danger may be an excellent strategy. But it should be a conscious decision. And you should be ready to abandon the hide response at a moment’s notice. That’s why I like the command: FIGHT! Self-defense trainers use it to initiate drills. It gets the adrenalin pumping and the legs moving. It’s a green light for action.

[CAUTION! Creating an automatic stimulus – response connection between FIGHT and firing your gun is a bad idea. Make sure you spend a good amount of time training yourself NOT to shoot. At the range, from time to time, bring your weapon to bear and hold it there. Then go back to ready.]

2. Anger

Adrenalin and anger go together like sex and orgasm. While anger is motivational, it also leads to strategic stupidity and poor motor control. You can easily end-up emptying your gun without hitting the bad guy. Or shooting the wrong person. Or running into a fight you should have avoided. So you have get past your anger.

I like the command: AIM! This forces you to aim at the bad guy and gives you a fraction of a second to decide whether or not to shoot. If you do pull the trigger, aiming dramatically raises the chances that you’ll hit what you’re aiming at. Repeating the command improves the accuracy of any and all follow-up shots. Obvious stuff—that should not get lost in the fog of war.

3. Bargaining

“If I don’t shoot him, maybe he’ll leave.” “Maybe he’s only going to shoot the pharmacist, not me.” I know it sounds a lot like a return to denial, but there’s a subtle difference. Bargaining is an intellectual process, with both an active and passive element.

On the downside, bargaining can delay action until it’s too late. It can also lead to an extremely dangerous interaction with the perp or perps, with whom you have no real bargaining power.

On the upside, bargaining can establish suitable parameters for action. “If he shoots someone, I’ll shoot him.” “If he start herding people into the back room, I’ll shoot.” Even better, you can train yourself to bargain. I recommend David Kenik’s most excellent shoot-don’t shoot video or force-on-force training.

There is no need for a self-command here. With even a small amount of mental preparation,you will move through bargaining in a fraction of second. Perhaps unconsciously.

4. Depression

I’ve spoken to dozens of people who’ve been in an armed self-defense situation. Many of them report a momentary feeling of utter despair. “This sucks and I’m going to die.” They talked of a literal feeling of heaviness, as if someone turned gravity up to 10. It passed.

You often hear of people saying they thought of their children and decided to fight for survival. What you don’t hear: carrying a self-defense weapon is inherently motivational. If you have a gun in the face of a lethal threat you don’t have to die. You might die. But you don’t have to. You have an option.

The feel of the gun in your hand should be enough to get you through this trough. If not, return to the FIGHT! command.

5. Acceptance

Some people call it “resignation,” but I don’t hold with that. Acceptance is an understanding that you have to do what you have to do and . . . you’ll see what happens. And whatever happens, happens.

In the few times when I was in life-threatening danger, I remember this feeling of calm clear-headedness. The trick: get there as quickly as possible. Use the command BREATHE!

BREATHE! is a reminder to not over-oxygenate your body (and shut down your higher brain functions). It creates a little bit of mental space so you can think responsibly, move quickly and shoot accurately. So you can shoot the bastard who’s in the process of threatening to take your life

Which is about as good as it’s ever going to get. To recap:

1. Learn gun safety
2. Learn gun handling
3. Study shoot – don’t shoot scenarios
4. Get force-on-force training
5. Use the following commands: FIGHT! AIM! FIGHT! BREATHE!
6. Do what you have to do to survive—and nothing more.

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  1. “In the few times when I was in life-threatening danger, I remember experiencing this feeling of calm clear-headedness.”

    Me, too. It’s the damndest thing. After the danger was long gone, that’s when I felt it. Heart rate, up. Blood pressure, up. So much adrenalin that I was starving. But in the heat of the moment, everything slowed way down and I never felt so focused in my life. It helped me understand why people undertake adrenalin sports.

  2. Good stuff. Too often we go through life in what I call a La La land mode. With no thought of what goes on around us. As an aside, I would add, have a lawyer’s card handy to give to the police when them come and don’t give a statement to them until he arrives.

    • In my interaction with police, especially if the guy whose ticket to hell you just punched was a bad guy, is they are generally on your side. I have known a few police officers, and some FBI agents, and generally the advice they give is not to tell them to talk to your lawyer. That immediately puts you on the defensive and adds suspicion.

      The correct thing to do is say something along the lines of “I intend to fully co-operate with you, but I have just been through a very emotional experience and need a little time to pull myself together first.” The police understand this, most of them are trained that this is exactly what they should do and say if they shoot someone, and it doesn’t give them any further reason to suspect you were up to no good. Basically the golden rule for dealing with the police in any situation is do whatever you can to put them at ease and make them feel as though you are on their side.

      But it is a good idea to not fully pull yourself together until after your lawyer arrives.

  3. To all that say there is no need for CCW or open carry I think this quote from Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer say’s it all.

    “You have four innocent people, two workers on a Sunday morning in a nice, quiet neighborhood and died viciously and violently. Two customers walk into the store, they’re not thinking it’s their last day on earth and they’re killed. This is very unusual.”
    While would beg to differ on the unusual statement. Every state and major city has a story of workers working and then being shot by criminal predators whether they where resisting or not. To stick your head in the sand like Magoo and others saying it will never happen is irresponsible to yourself, your family and society. It is a fact that it may not have happen to you but when it does it the possibility goes from 0% to a 100% in a heartbeat.

  4. I don’t think that anyone told this criminal that he’s not supposed to have a gun in the “SAFE” state of NY without a licence. It’s hard to believe this could happen in NY because they have VERY STRICT gun laws, and this is not allowed there.

  5. While I have experienced the, “… feeling of calm clear-headedness” and the adrenaline rush and a bit of the case of the shakes AFTER the fact, these “stages of grief” seem to have little application to a self-defense shooting scenario.

    My decision cycle is more like: “Is it a threat? Front sight, breathe, eliminate the threat. Scan for the next threat.”

    After the fact, I can imagine skipping past “denial” to anger (“You stupid SOB!”) zooming past bargaining and depression to acceptance (“Yep. I shot the worthless scumbag.”)

    I can’t imagine depression entering into the equation primarily because I would look at a self-defense shooting under circumstances as described in the lead article as a public service. “Because I shot this worthless POS today, countless other people will be spared dangerous encounters.” It’s like swatting a mosquito knowing that it will never again spread disease. I don’t “grieve” for the mosquito.

    Maybe it’s just attitude. Some people would see the perp as a “human being deserving of respect and dignity.” But i figure he surrenders his status as “human being”, as soon as he decides to attack other people. I’d view my role as taking out the garbage before it stinks up the place. I don’t grieve for garbage either.

    On dealing with the cops – see the excellent Youtube video, “Never talk to the police.” If you don’t heed its advice, you will only have yourself to blame. Don’t count on a cop’s better nature – he might not have one. If you say nothing but, “I am invoking my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent (as required now by the Supreme Court), that fact cannot even be mentioned at trial, if it should come to that. Be polite. Be courteous. Say nothing.

  6. “The victims whose lives were cut tragically short were killed for no apparent reason and without warning,” [Police Commissioner] Dormer said. “They offered no resistance and did not appear to provoke the assailant. They were all shot at close range.”

    TRANSLATED: “THEY DIED LIKE SHEEP.” Which is exactly how the statists in this country want us all to act. “Don’t get involved. Call 911. Don’t take the law into your own hands. Don’t carry a gun, you will just have it taken away by the criminal. Don’t carry a gun, you might have a road rage incident and shoot some innocent person. Don’t even THINK of taking personal responsibility for your own safety – that might encourage you to start thinking like a free individual. LIVE as a sheep, DIE as a sheep – that’s a lot safer for society.” Oh, and be sure to pay your taxes so we can protect you by “deploying police patrols near small pharmacies.”

  7. “In the few times when I was in life-threatening danger, I remember this feeling of calm clear-headedness. Use the command BREATHE!” Funny, we always somehow ended up uttering the word “F*ck! during contact. Of course, it wasn’t as random as something like what’s suggested herein but the process is similar. It just happened a LOT FASTER. The adrenaline flowed like crazy once you checked yourself for holes / injuries after the battle. And I don’t care who you are, if you’re human and not a psychopath, sending rounds down range and ending the life of another human – even the enemy as declared by the President – leaves lasting impressions.

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