Making the decision to carry a concealed weapon is only the first step in a process which includes purchasing a handgun that’s appropriate for one’s personality and life, training, regular practice, and adapting one’s thinking to the habits necessary to safely carrying a handgun on a daily basis. Safety, however, does not consist primarily of not accidently shooting oneself or others, or of avoiding accidently leaving one’s handgun in a public restroom, among other monumental mistakes. Most important is ensuring that one will never have to use a handgun, which is done primarily through developing and maintaining situational awareness . . .
Situational awareness might be described as the ability to be aware of one’s surroundings, to anticipate potential trouble, and to avoid it before one is confronted by actual trouble, forcing a reaction. Those with a high degree of situational awareness, such as police officers or combat soldiers, often find themselves virtually “outside” their bodies, as though watching themselves function in real time. While this may sound mystical, perhaps even a bit flakey, it describes real perceptions, and the development of real skills, primarily being actively, in a relaxed and confident sense, aware of what is going on outside the arms-length personal space “bubble” of most Americans.
Unfortunately, there is an invention that makes active situational awareness for many people more difficult than at any time in history: smart phones. I developed situational awareness at a very young age, long before that kind of distraction was invented. My first cell phone, used in the later part of my police days, was a bag phone, and technology progressed rapidly from there. Now, an amazing portion of the population is out in public in the functional equivalent of smart phone catatonia. Consider this 2013 AP report from San Francisco:
“The man drew the gun several times on the crowded San Francisco commuter train, with surveillance video showing him pointing it across the aisle without anyone noticing and then putting it back against his side, according to authorities.
The other passengers were so absorbed in their phones and tablets they didn’t notice the gunman until he randomly shot and killed a university student, authorities said.
Before that moment, footage showed the man pull out the .45-caliber pistol and once wipe his nose with the hand holding the weapon, authorities told the San Francisco Chronicle in a story on Monday.
‘These weren’t concealed movements — the gun is very clear,’ District Attorney George Gascon said. “These people are in very close proximity with him, and nobody sees this. They’re just so engrossed, texting and reading and whatnot. They’re completely oblivious of their surroundings.”
San Francisco police officials say people who pay too much attention to digital technology are also vulnerable to theft.
“Oftentimes when you interview people who get their phones stolen, when you ask them to describe where the person came from, what he was wearing, they have no idea,” said police Chief Greg Suhr.
Ironically, if people saw the killer, who was eventually arrested, earlier, it may have caused a panic which could possibly have resulted in more deaths. Due to California’s draconian gun laws, few, except criminals, are armed. However, in much of the rest of America, criminals must take into account that citizens can be, and likely are, armed virtually anywhere.
Criminals are not generally the brilliant, quirky masterminds of the movies and police novels. Most aren’t terribly bright, but they do have a feral intelligence that leads them to look for easy prey: those that are weak and unaware.
It is the lack of situational awareness, exacerbated by distractions such as smart phones, that helps killers fire many shots into crowds or classrooms before anyone is aware of what is happening. In the aftermath, people say: “he came out of nowhere,” or “it all happened so fast.” Few people consciously develop situational awareness, and women, constitutionally and because of their lack of strength and size relative to men, are particularly vulnerable. While there are no absolutely definitive studies, some surveys have suggested that women are more likely to text than men. If so, this only contributes to a lack of situational awareness.
Criminals are more likely to stalk a small, distracted woman than a large, fit man. That’s why it is particularly important for women to not only consider carrying a concealed handgun, but to work consistently to develop situational awareness.
The late Col. Jeff Cooper, founder of the famous Gunsite training facility, developed a color code system that describes the necessary mental state.
CODE WHITE: This describes most people: no situational awareness at all, face down in a smart phone. In this state, one is essentially unaware of what is happening outside their bubble. They can’t anticipate and identify potential danger and have virtually no chance of dealing with it effectively. Predators see them as a walking piece of meat with a flashing neon “eat me” sign. Think about all the smart phone zombies to understand the joy, and easy picking, of criminals.
CODE YELLOW: This is the awareness level anyone carrying concealed must develop and maintain. It is an enhanced level of awareness. While remaining relaxed, one is constantly on the lookout for potential danger. Personal space is expanded far beyond arm’s length and danger can be avoided or confronted without surprise or hesitation. This level of awareness is not stressful and can be easily maintained without danger of physical or psychological deterioration. Perfect situational awareness isn’t possible–we’re only human–but it is the goal.
CODE ORANGE: Because of situational awareness an imminent potential threat has been recognized. Perhaps a nearby man thrusts his hand into his coat in the manner of someone reaching for a handgun in a shoulder holster. An escalation from yellow to orange is immediate–-until he pulls out a checkbook–-allowing the equally quick shift to yellow. An escalation from yellow to orange will probably not be noticeable by anyone not used to maintaining situational awareness. This may or may not result in an adrenaline dump, but remaining in this state for long periods of time may result in stress damage.
CODE RED: This is the reaction to a definite, imminent threat, but there is still time to consider options. Approaching one’s car in a parking garage there is a man slouching against the trunk. He looks and feels wrong, out of place. The heat of an adrenaline dump surges; decision time: Flight or fight? Is a direction change and walking away without provoking a pursuit possible, or is a confrontation unavoidable? If unavoidable, what must be done to gain and retain a tactical advantage? Remaining in code red for more than a short time is debilitating for most people and will likely be physically and/or psychologically harmful.
CODE BLACK: This is actual combat and it must be assumed, in any confrontation outside the sparring practice of a martial arts school, that it’s potentially–even probably–a life and death struggle, particularly if attacked by a stranger on the street. Adrenaline is pumping and Tachypsychia (seconds seem like hours) is common, as is narrowing of the field of vision commonly known as “tunneling.” Hearing may become very dim or temporarily disappear. Fine muscle control is diminished, even lost. This is a debilitating physical and psychological state and those who experience it are often physically and emotionally exhausted after a confrontation that lasts mere seconds. Without situational awareness, caught unaware and by surprise, one is at a serious tactical disadvantage and may be hurt or killed. Obviously, it is best never to experience code black.
Learning to observe one’s surroundings and to ask “what if?” is vital. It is the anticipation of trouble, and prior planning based on that observation, that enables us to avoid most trouble.
Fortunately, developing situational awareness does not take expensive professional training. It does, however, take a beginning awareness of the necessity, and daily practice, practice that begins when one leave the front door of their home each day. It also takes an awareness of human nature.
Most people do not look around them, or focus their vision much beyond a distance necessary to avoid tripping over objects a step away. They allow their thoughts to completely distract them from an awareness of anything outside the personal space bubble. It takes little time watching people wherever they congregate to see just how shockingly unaware most are.
When people approach, they may do no more than glance briefly upward to see if they know them, and perhaps to make momentary eye contact. People virtually never look up. They don’t gaze higher than eye level unless looking for a sign, and are often amazed at what they’ve missed when they accidently look at the second stories of buildings they pass every day.
Few look behind them. Few examine the area around their cars as they approach them. Few look up and down the street, except to avoid being hit by cars, before pulling out into traffic. Few take a few seconds to examine the area around their cars and the path they plan to take, before leaving their cars. Women are particularly bad about spending seconds, or minutes, stationary, hunting for car keys in a purse, leaving themselves vulnerable. Few look around as they drive down their street–the same way every day–or approach their driveway.
On the first day of each school year, I tell my new students that one of the hardest things to do is to learn to concentrate, to pay attention to what is happening right in front of one’s face. It is a skill that takes effort, constant effort, but it pays off. Consider that we spend, through sleep, 1/3 of our life unconscious. Living to 90 means spending 30 years asleep. How much more of a life are we willing to lose to an inability to pay attention, to the dimly shining screen of a smart phone, that we may actually experience more fully the wonder of life around us?
Oh, but people who carry guns and run around thinking about “code yellow” and “code red” are paranoid. They’re nuts! They’re dangerous! Actually, their work at paying attention, at developing situational awareness makes them more alive, more aware of their world and their life, helps them avoid ever having to use their handgun, and if they do, makes it more likely they’ll survive to enjoy those additional years of inspirational awareness. They are, particularly women, dangerous, but only to predators. We can use more of those women–and men.
Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.