The Decision to be Armed

Hat tip to Kathie Glass, for pointing me to this article about a broad daylight hold up of a restaurant in the Houston area.

HOUSTON, Texas – Two armed men walked into a restaurant in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods and robbed the store and the customers at gunpoint. At one point a shot was fired into the ceiling.

Witnesses reported two armed Hispanic men entered the Café Express near the River Oaks area of the city about 6:15 Monday evening. The men split up with one going to the cash register and the second going around the store to customers demanding purses and jewelry, KPRC NBC2 in Houston reported.

Kathie prefaced the link to that story with this comment: “The time has come to be psychologically prepared for a situation like this. What would you do? If you are not armed, your choices are few.”

When it comes to the choice of whether or not to carry a firearm, I say "guess right, or carry 24/7". I have no confidence in my ability to guess right every single day that today will not be a day where I will need to defend myself. There simply is no way to know for certain. Yes, the odds are - particularly with the way I live my life - small that something would ever happen that would make me wish I had brought along a gun, but they are there, nonetheless. So instead of guessing, I carry every single day, and I do so for exactly the same reason that most intelligent people keep a fire extinguisher in their kitchen. They’re not planning to have a fire. They exercise caution while cooking to avoid the possibilities of a fire, but because they cannot account for every single variable, they have a fire extinguisher for “just in case”. That is the rationale behind why I choose to (lawfully) carry a firearm. Now, all of that said, there are some things that need to be addressed if someone going to make that choice to carry a firearm...... even if doing so rarely.

  1. Situational Awareness: The bad guy always has the tactical edge, because HE selects the timing and location. Therefore, practice good situational awareness at all times. Walking around in "Condition White" is NOT a good way to be ready to use that gun you've decided to carry. This is NOT just about your readiness, it is about whether or not you are morally equipped to carry a gun. With Liberty comes responsibility, and if you're not prepared to take on the awesome responsibility of carrying on your person the means of applying deadly force against another person, you probably shouldn't do it. The late Col. Jeff Cooper had an excellent and simple to remember Color Code to describe states of readiness. Quoting this link (in italics):

    White: In condition White, you are relaxed and unaware of what is going on around you. Ideally, a police officer is only in white when asleep, but realistically we often drop our guard when we are at home or in some other environment we assume to be safe, like the squad room. Since even police stations have been attacked, it is better to be more alert even when you are in your “lair.” As the Lakewood coffee shop ambush proves, you simply cannot be on white when you are in uniform, whether on duty or off.

    “If you are attacked in condition white, you may very well die — unless you are lucky. I prefer to not depend on luck.

    In condition yellow, you remain relaxed, but are aware of who and what is around you. This merely means that you are paying attention to the sights and sounds that surround you whether you are at home or moving in society. Condition yellow DOES NOT equate with paranoia or any other irrational fear of persons or places. Instead, you simply have moved your alertness to a level of attention that will prevent you from being totally surprised by the actions of another person.

    “While walking through an area you will loosely keep track of anyone behind you. When choosing a seat in a restaurant, you will position yourself to see the entrance or to minimize the number of people who might be behind you. “You don’t need to insist on securing the “gunfighter seat” which will put your back to a dead corner and your face to the entrance, because you are not anticipating a threat, you are merely conducting an inventory of your surroundings and the other people around you. You will also be running a cursory “what if” mental visualization of where a threat could appear and what your reaction(s) should be.

    “If you are attacked in condition yellow, it should not come as a total surprise. Your response to a threat should have been pre-planned to some extent, allowing you to simply run an existing plan rather than having to make one up quickly while under fire. A competent police officer MUST be in condition yellow whenever they are on duty — or when armed while off duty.

    In condition orange, you have identified something of interest that may or may not prove to be a threat. Until you determine the true nature of whatever has piqued your interest, your “radar” is narrowed to concentrate on the possible threat and will remain so focused until you are satisfied no threat exists.

    “Contacts you make throughout your shift — either dispatched or self-initiated — are obvious examples of a condition orange focus. These people are not currently a threat, or you would move swiftly and smoothly to the next higher color. Instead, these individuals simply could be a threat, so you shift from condition yellow (relaxed but alert) to condition orange (specific alert).

    “You may make this harmless shift many times a day as you go about your normal routine. If someone or something looks out of place, you change from a 360 degree general awareness to a more focused concentration in a specific direction. At the same time, you can’t drop your general awareness, because a bad guy in front of you may be a distraction for another behind.

    “If you are attacked in condition orange, you should be expecting the attack. Further, you will hopefully be facing your attacker since you have already shifted your focus in his direction. If you are well trained, your subconscious mind will have been searching your hard drive for similar events or training sessions you have already experienced, or any pre-visualized what if” situations you’ve cataloged as possible solutions should an attack take place.

    If the focus of your attention in condition orange does something you find threatening, you will shift to condition red. “Notice here that condition Red IS NOT the firing stroke, as some instructors have misconstrued from Cooper’s teachings. Instead, condition red simply changes the focus of your attention from a potential threat to a potential target. [my underlining to emphasize... TAM] You will draw your weapon, or move still further to sight acquisition, only if the potential target’s actions dictate such a response. Once you’ve shifted to condition red, you cannot be surprised by your primary adversary and you are fully prepared to repel boarders should he push the incident that far. But, your intense concentration on a forward threat will lessen your ability to maintain some degree of 360-degree awareness for unknown threats that may come from other directions. Effective training under high-stress conditions will help you avoid the tunnel vision that some describe as “akin to looking through a toilet paper tube.”

    “If possible, in both conditions orange and red, move to a position that will give you a tactical advantage. Ideally, you want a wall or previously cleared area behind you and some sort of solid cover you can move behind should shooting break out. Having one or more backup officers at this point can greatly enhance situational awareness, if — and only if — one of those officers remains alert in all directions — a rear guard. All too often, every officer on-scene concentrates on the threat with no regard for 360 degree security.

    “If you are attacked in red, you should be fully prepared to defend yourself. Whether or not you have a gun in hand or on target will depend on the circumstances, but mentally, you are already ahead of the game.”

    If you are going to carry a gun, walking around in Condition White is a major tactical blunder, and may get your gun taken from you at the least opportune time, not to mention getting you killed.....but, that is the condition in which most people live, even a lot of people who carry a gun. When you carry a gun, learn to exist in Condition Yellow. (Read the above quote for what that means.) If you exist in Condition Yellow when you are out and about, you will be FAR less likely to be surprised by unfolding events, because you will have already identified potential actors before they act, and you can modify your own behaviors accordingly to gain back some of the tactical advantage BEFORE the situation develops. For instance, I NEVER sit with my back to the door in a restaurant (despite what the author above writes), I don't care how fancy it is. If there is more than one entrance, I try to be seated where I can at least observe the entrances without having to look over my shoulder. (This is one reason why I always ask for a table instead of a booth. Tables give you more options - including the option of escape. Booths are traps with only one way out.

  2. Train: If you're going to carry a gun, it is not enough to go to the range once a year and shoot 50 rounds at a stationary paper bullseye target that is not shooting back at you. Human beings, in a fight, devolve to their level of training. That's just a fact. It is SO much of a fact that the military spends a huge amount of its annual budget on training. Police train. Firemen train. Paramedics train. Emergency room doctors and nurses train. Pilots train. Aircraft mechanics train. Etc., etc., etc. These are ALL people who, in the regular course of their duties, take their own lives or the lives of others into their own hands when they go to work; and they train, so that their reactions to problems devolve to the level of their training. If you're going to carry a gun, you should train with it. What does "training" mean? That varies entirely with your individual budget, physical abilities, and your moral commitment to being armed. I am all for the disabled and the elderly being armed, and not everyone has the same physical capacities as the young and healthy. (At 63 years old, I find myself increasingly in the "less capable" ranks than I used to be.) That's OK. But commit to training to the level of which you are capable, and can afford. Firearms instructors abound, and are MORE than willing to do anything from spending an hour giving you some pointers on things that you can practice on your own time with your little ol' revolver, to giving you full on special forces training with a long gun, and everything in between.......and they LOVE the idea of an armed, trained, and RESPONSIBLE citizenry. There are some who do it for free, as a ministry. Get the training. Such training is usually available either at local gun clubs and ranges, or, depending on how involved you want to get, at facilities that are specifically designed for tactical training. But get trained! Even a small amount of training can make a large amount of difference when the flag goes up.

  3. Safety: According to a standard rule of gun safety - knowing your target and what lies behind it - you own any bullet that leaves your muzzle. Once fired, it cannot be recalled, and you own the results. If you accidentally shoot someone who is not a bad guy, you are absolutely liable for that, whether or not you successfully dispatched a bad guy in the process. (This is one HUGE reason why we train!) Even people who get paid to do this are liable for harm done to "unintended others" by errant bullets, including the military and police. If you carry, you don't get to escape that responsibility. It doesn't matter if you think you have a good sight picture and can take the shot, if an innocent person is standing behind the bad guy, you don't really have a good sight picture, and you can't take the shot.

  4. Shot placement is king: Caliber does not make up for shot placement. A .22 in the brain is far more lethal than a .45 in the abdomen. A .38 Special bullet that hits a vital structure is far more effective than a .44 magnum bullet that does not. It is a little known fact (Google it if you don’t believe me) that better than 80% of gunshot patients survive being shot, and even fatal wounds are not always immediately fatal. I have personally held a conversation with a gunshot patient who had taken a 9mm bullet right through the heart and was very much alive and regretting his decision to try and hold up a liquor store. He would have eventually died from the pericardial tamponade caused by the bullet's passage clean through his heart, but it would have taken a couple of hours to kill him, and he was well inside the "golden hour". What stopped him then from carrying out his attack? It was purely a psychological reaction to having been shot (twice....the second bullet having broken his upper right arm, which was not a fatal wound). Handguns are not some kind of magical death ray talisman, even in magnum calibers, and MORALLY (as well as legally), you should be shooting to stop the threat; and NOT shooting to kill it. That said, if the bad actor's being shot concludes with his own death, that's on him; but your goal is to STOP him, not KILL him. Stopping a threat requires hits to organic or skeletal structures that collapse the attack, and that can be very difficult to do on a moving target. That is why it has become a mantra to abandon the idea of "shooting him in the leg", or fatuous nonsense like "shoot the gun out of his hand", and adopting the mantra of "aim for center of mass and keep pulling the trigger until he's down". That is what even trained people do, by the way. The human body is capable of absorbing many hits and continuing an attack — even fatal hits — if the attacker is motivated enough. There are MANY documented cases of either bad guys shot multiple times by police, or police officers shot multiple times by bad guys, who simply refused to give up, and they stayed in the fight until they were either relieved in place, or they died. Back when I used to work in downtown Los Angeles, a co-worker of mine at the time was a former gang member who had been shot 6 times in the chest (I saw the scars, along with the tracheostomy scar) by a rival gang member and survived. All of this is to say that, firing only once, even if you hit the bad guy in a vital spot, may not stop his predation, so once you start pulling the trigger, KEEP pulling the trigger until he is down.....realizing that YOU have just become his new highest priority target. This leads to my next point.

  5. Resign yourself to being shot: People who think they are going to get into a knife fight without getting cut are delusional. People who think they are going to get into a gunfight with a bad guy without getting shot are (mostly) similarly delusional...... I say "mostly" because, in the heat of battle, we devolve to our level of training, and if you haven't learned the difference between concealment and cover (Google it), how to find that cover, and still be tactically effective from behind it, you're at a very high risk of being shot yourself. Resign yourself to that possibility, and determine RIGHT NOW, TODAY, BEFORE something ever happens that, if you are shot and unless you are actually physically (not psychologically) incapacitated, you will stay in the fight until you either vanquish the foe or you are relieved or you die. Actually, this applies even if you choose not to carry a gun. A lot of people die because they simply gave up hope of living, and a lot of people who are still combat effective stop fighting simply because pain made them quit. But pain is temporary and surmountable. DO NOT QUIT!!! Because once you start shooting, there is no turning back, and you MUST conclude the business.

  6. What are YOU made of? If this all sounds brutally Darwinian, it is. There is no way around that. But you have to decide what your own life is worth, what the lives of your loved ones are worth to you, and what the lives of the total strangers around you are worth to you. I love my wife, my son, my daughter in law, my grandchildren, my brothers, my mother, my son’s in-laws, and my church family without reservation. They are all worth the cost of my life. I am 63 years old, and while not an ancient man by any means, I have had a full, good life. I have had opportunities in life to do things that many others dream of, but never get around to. My life has been a precious gift from God, and I will willingly gift it back to Him by laying it down for someone I love, if that is what it will take to preserve their life. I have already made that decision. It is part of my ethos, so while I do not advocate foolishness, I am absolutely prepared to accept whatever happens to me, in defense of either my own life of the lives of those I love.

But that is not going to be the same decision that everyone reaches. It is an intensely personal one, and there is no right answer. That is merely my answer. But consider this: there are basically three kinds of people in this world: sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves. Decide which category you belong to. There is no shame in being one of the sheep. Jesus himself calls all of his followers, among whom I count myself, by the name “my sheep”. Some of us are not cut out to be warriors as a matter of temperament. That’s OK. But some of God’s sheep are more than sheep..... they are sheep dogs. They have a warrior inside of them that is yearning for a voice in their affairs. That is how they are made. They have fangs and claws, just like the wolf, but they do not use them to be predators upon the sheep. They live and work among the sheep, and to most external appearances, look like all the other sheep, but their mortal enemy is the wolf, and they will drive him off, or go down fighting, to protect the sheep around them. This is something internal to the makeup of most police officers, for instance. For some, being a sheepdog is restricted to immediate family. For some, it includes friends. For others, it includes the helpless around them. Only the sheepdog can decide for himself where he sees the limits of his responsibilities as a sheep dog. I am the latter type.

For me personally, I am very drawn to the speech that is most commonly attributed to the great Shawnee Chief Tecumseh (although it has also been attributed to other notable leaders in Native American History):

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

As a Christ-follower, I am satisfied about what will happen to me on the day I die - a day which is appointed to ALL of us, whether or not someone shares my brand of faith. If I expend my life in the service of my people, I will count it to the good. Like anyone, I want to live long enough to watch my little granddaughter get married, and maybe even to have kids of her own. I want to live long enough to watch my infant grandson grow up to be like the man his father is, of whom I am so proud. But only the Lord knows the number of my days. If it is not his will for me to die at any given point in time, NOTHING can kill me. And if it is not his will for me to live long enough to watch my grandkids mature into fully realized adults, NOTHING can keep me here. It is liberating, because the only decision I have to make is to decide what is worth dying for, and what is worth living for. God takes care of the rest.

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