Saturday, October 7, 2017

Thoughts on Las Vegas

Unless you've been living in a cave over the last few days, you've heard about the horrific events at a concert on the Vegas Strip. In short, a lunatic with an arsenal of automatic weapons opened fire on revelers at a Jason Aldean concert. The end result (as of the time of this article) is 58 confirmed fatalities and 527 wounded. This event is officially the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

Before anything else is said, let me first express my condolences to those who suffered the loss of a friend or family member in this tragedy. Our thoughts are with the wounded as they recover as well as the victims and those they left behind. Nothing excuses the actions taken by this madman, and I am in no way implying that the victims of this tragedy are to blame for their experience.

This particular MCE takes on a personal tone for me. Just last month (September 2017), my wife and younger daughter attended Aldean's concert in Raleigh, NC. It was a joint birthday present for the two of them. My 14-year-old was so excited about the trip that she could hardly breathe. Meanwhile, I was in deep conversations with my wife about concert security. The venue was an outdoor amphitheater, thus increasing the potential for bad ju-ju to go down.

My wife admits that she originally believed that the likelihood for violence was low. After all, who would ever attack a country music concert in the great ol' US of A? The answer to that question is all too evident now.

Having watched numerous recordings of the events in Las Vegas, it is apparent that this particular attack brought an entirely new set of circumstances to the a normally predictable MCE. The shooter (whose name will not be mentioned here for the fact that he deserves no mention or notoriety) occupied a 32nd-floor room and used that vantage point as a platform for his attack.

The typical 'active shooter response' mantras ("Run, Hide, Fight", "Avoid, Deny, Defend", ALICE [Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate]) were rendered moot. How does one run from someone whose vantage point presents a field of vision that spans literally for miles? Where does one hide when the location of the shooter puts him above virtually every type of concealment or cover? How can one engage a shooter who is 400 meters away and 32 stories up? All of the carefully crafted messages about 'what to do in an active shooter situation' became suddenly and poignantly useless.

Thus, the deadliest mass shooting in modern history.

Having no other recourse, people did what people naturally do. They froze. They waited. And many of them died. Only after 100 rounds or so had been fired at them did they realize the necessity to run, but even then they had no idea which direction to run because the location of the shooter was undetermined.

Let's be clear here. I am not blaming the victims. Their situation was impossible and their confusion entirely justified. Under the circumstances, I'd wager that most people would do what they did (except for this guy, whose reaction is probably the most indicative of my attitude towards this shooter).

So let's take a look at this event from a couple of different angles - the political and the practical - and make some assessments based on what we see.

The Political

In the hours following the shooting, police went on record saying that there was no way they could have foreseen or prevented this attack. The shooter wasn't on anyone's radar. He had a spotless criminal record. He wasn't a religious fanatic nor was he a political activist. There were no lingering financial issues; in fact, this shooter was substantially well off. He wasn't the target of any investigations or work-related scandals. He was in a long-term dating relationship; his girlfriend allegedly sent cookies to his mother.

This shooter was exceptionally normal, which makes his rampage that much more perplexing.

As expected, the anti-gun narrative started within hours of the shootings - before the bodies had even been transported to the morgue, in fact. Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who declared that we didn't need to wax political about this event, immediately went political by railing against the NRA. Bernie Sanders and a host of other Democrats also decided that it was time to renew their call for gun control in the wake of Las Vegas.

Of course, the fact that gun control is a failed venture (as demonstrated in the failures of Detroit, Chicago, and California as gun control Utopias) is completely lost on anti-gun proponents. Despite the most well-crafted narratives of the anti-gun left, there is nothing that could have been done to stop the Vegas shooter. His weapons and ammunition were legally purchased. His movements furtive. His plan undisclosed until he pulled the trigger for the first time.

Any calls for 'stronger common sense gun laws' are just background noise to the truth of the matter.

The Practical

What lessons can be learned from the Vegas event? Several:

  • Have a plan. I'm not saying that everyone at the concert failed in this regard, but enough people did to cause a casualty count that sets a new record for carnage. Knowing how to get to the nearest exit is paramount. It also pays to know where cover or concealment can be found.
  • Be willing to break the rules. According to what I saw in video from the Vegas shooting, when people realized the truth of the matter - that bullets were flying - they turned and ran... across wide swaths of open ground. The Vegas strip is a long, narrow venue. The better option it to run toward the edges of the venue, not the rear. Even better would be to run toward the stage. With all of the rigging, lights, and curtains, there is a lot of interference for bullets to manage. There is also a stage under which you may be able to hide. Aldean headed backstage when the shooting started. Under the circumstances, I would suggest doing the same.
  • Know what gunfire sounds like. Watch this video. Watch this one for a slower rate of fire. Watch them repeatedly. Doing so will ingrain the sound of gunfire in your ears. When you hear that sound, assume first it is gunfire. Refuse to just stand there while trying to assess (and justify) the sound. People chalked up the sound to fireworks (though none were visible) or monitor feedback. I watched a video in which a young lady with her friend stood in the line of fire for almost two minutes after a nearby concertgoer told her that the sound was feedback.
  • When there's gunfire, particularly from an unknown location, the sooner you can move the better. Immobile people are called targets. Moving people are still targets, but they are a helluva lot harder to hit.
  • Know your ballistics. Bullets that hit the ground can and will ricochet (against hard surfaces). The line of deflection does not equal the angle of entry. Bullets deform and break apart when they strike hard surfaces, which will cause a low exit trajectory (closer to the ground) Lying prone can easily result in additional injury.


The best safety option is to prepare your mind before you attend the event. Once the ground work for safety is in place, the only responsibility is to enjoy the show. Plan for the worst while expecting the best.

Be safe.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pulse Night Club - One Year Later

Background

In June of 2016, a terrorist opened fire on the crowds at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, FL. By the time his rampage came to an end, 49 people would lose their lives and another 58 suffered gunshot wounds. I watched the coverage of this event unfold on multiple media outlets. The footage was raw, intense, and horrifying.

Later that year, the City of Orlando released 911 tapes and transcripts, which I read thoroughly. The details coming from inside the club were morbidly compelling as they described individuals hiding from the shooter in bathroom stalls, closets and in plain sight under dead or dying bodies.

Nothing I read or saw on news footage could properly convey to me just how a crazed individual could accomplish such a devastating body count in mere moments. The shooter was actively using his weapons from 2:02 AM and 2:10 AM, during which time he fired more than 200 rounds from his Sig Sauer MCX rifle and Glock 17 handgun. In the months since this attack, I've wondered how the shooter could kill and injure so many people in so little time. This past summer, I figured it out to some degree.

Enlightenment

In the spring of 2017, my wife learned that she would be honored by a national writers' organization for her work. The conference would take place in Orlando. We immediately made plans to travel down for the convention. I had secondary motives, however. I didn't get to see the club the previous year (just 6 weeks after the tragedy) when I was traveling for a conference. It was just too soon after the shootings. This trip, however, my wife and I agreed that planning a visit to the club would be possible.

Thus, as we passed through Orlando on the way to our hotel, we hopped off I-4 to visit the Pulse Night Club site:




Seeing this location was moving. The wall, the murals, the signage, the memorials on the ground. The entire event leapt from surreal television coverage to disturbing reality in seconds.

When we took a few minutes to consider this club, the answer to my pressing question finally arrived. How could this rampaging lunatic commit such an atrocity in such a short time? The reply was staring me in the face.

The Pulse Night Club is not very big. In fact, it is impossibly small for a dance club.

There were more than 300 people packed into the club that night. The shooter wouldn't have needed to even aim his rifle; leveling it and pulling the trigger was all he had to do. He could have worn a blindfold and caused equal amounts of bloodshed.

Defensive Lessons (Closed Spaces & Big Crowds)

  • The shooter started his rampage at 2:02 AM. The first officers entered the club at 2:08 AM. Six minutes is an eternity when someone is killing everyone around you. Having a plan to get out, even when you are shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of people,is an absolute must.
  • Doors are fatal funnels, and the Pulse club proved that with macabre finality. There were multiple available doors in the club: two doors led to the rear stage area and the bathrooms. Four other doors led outside (two to the patio and two to the parking lot). Two doors led to bathrooms from the main dance area. Every single one of these doors is single passage, meaning that the massive crowd on the dance floor could only exit in single file. As the bottleneck at the doors slowed evacuation, the shooter only needed to pick a crowd and fire.
  • The only double doors in the club were emergency exits located in the secondary stage area, beyond the most crowded area in the club and thus beyond the bottleneck. 20 people died on the dance floor, likely because the exits would not accommodate mass evacuation of the area.
  • This tragedy could have happened in any crowded auditorium. The Manchester bomber took advantage of a similarly crowded space to kill 22 innocent attendees at a concert. Taking particular precautions in a densely populated area can save lives, including staging yourself near an exit and using secondary exits as much as possible when evacuation is necessary.
  • Recognize the situation. When every exit is bottlenecked and the likelihood of taking fire becomes probable, it is then time to turn the tables and either seek cover/concealment or move aggressively toward the shooter. Aggressing the attacker may seem counter-intuitive, but here's the reality: you can die with your back to the shooter as you try to run, or you can go after the threat in an attempt to break his attack cycle. The Pulse shooter wasn't expecting resistance, and he never received it. When all other options are likely to result in grave injury (or death), it is time to work offense instead of defense.
Seeing the Pulse Nightclub up close and in person gave me a new perspective on this tragedy. I am in no way attempting to impugn the actions of the attendees at the club that evening; instead, I want to look at the event in retrospect to know what can be done in the future to minimize the casualty count.

Be safe.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Educators for Gun Sense - Myth vs Reality

A new movement, called Educators for Gun Sense, has found a place in anti-firearms circles. While I embrace the message generally proposed by this organization (one of safe learning spaces free from hostile actors with guns), there are fundamental logical flaws extant in their platform. Below is the description of the intent of the movement from their own website (in italics). A link to their petition is at the bottom of this post. Because I am who I am, I feel compelled to show why these people are living in La-La Land where rainbows and unicorns dot the fairy-tale landscape. My comments are in bold.

Let me preface the following criticism of Everytown with a clarifying statement: America's schools are incredibly safe places as far as gun violence is concerned. I point out (and link to) a specific statistic in my commentary below that speaks to that truth, but invariably someone will accuse me of hinting that schools aren't safe places to work and learn. School shootings, particularly those that make national news, are the rare exception to the rule. Millions of children go to school every day, and virtually every day all of them return home without experiencing gun violence. Few places are safer than America's classrooms, but that doesn't relieve educators of their responsibility to plan for worst case scenarios, hence the criticism below.

**********************************************************

We are America’s educators, the professionals who have devoted our lives to teaching the country’s next generation.
Indeed you are, but you do not speak for ALL educators.

Our job is to enrich the intellectual fabric of America. We teach your children to read their first words. We nurture the interests of budding scientists, philosophers, engineers and artists. We support scholars and colleagues as they strive to break new ground in academic fields of study. And 99.9% of the time in classrooms all across the United States, that is exactly what happens.
We became educators to foster learning, creativity, discovery and intellectual freedom in safe, productive environments. We did not--and do not--intend to do our jobs on schools and campuses where teachers, students or the public can carry a gun. But you do your jobs in the presence of firearms every day without knowing it. Contrary to the delusion under which you live your lives, people come onto your campus every day with firearms. Some of them are police officers. Some of them are parents who are carrying a concealed firearm. And yes, some of them are students who, under the constant threat of bullying, feel as though their only legitimate protection from harm is to have a firearm in their backpacks.
When I was a teaching intern in 1991, a student who sat front and center in my 4th period class was arrested for having a handgun on campus. We were informed (via the media, not the school) that said student had been carrying the weapon to school for 2 weeks prior to being discovered with it. That means the student sat with his gun a mere 4 feet away from me for most of a 60-minute class period. 

You are surrounded by firearms - either in your school or in the homes immediately adjacent to your school - on a regular basis without incident. (And I'm not excusing students who break the law by carrying weapons to school, so don't write nasty emails to me.)
We are deeply concerned with the gun violence that plagues the nation, and we believe that our country should be working toward solving this problem and saving lives. But forcing our schools and campuses to allow guns is not part of the solution. We will not stand for it. I, too, am deeply concerned about gun violence. However, contrary to your statement, our country IS working toward solving this problem. You just don't like the solution that is being proposed and adopted in many corners of the country. From what I read on your site, you believe that ANY person with a gun is a threat. You couldn't be more wrong. According to a number of sources, there are about 300 million guns in this country. On any given day, the chance that you will be caught in a school shooting is approximately 1 in 54,000. If legal gun owners were an issue, the carnage they create would fill your news channels 24/7/365. What you construe as 'solving the problem' is more background checks, mag cap restrictions, and outright bans on certain 'scary' weapons like AR-15s. You want government to protect you with legislative acts. Government interventions aren't solutions; they are hindrances, particularly in light of the fact that someone who carries a weapon onto campus and opens fire has already violated a plethora of extant laws. Funny thing about criminals: they don't give a hoot about laws. We reject a vision of America where teachers do double duty as armed guards, and where students bring a loaded gun to a lecture hall as casually as they might bring a laptop. I ask the following question frequently and seldom get a lucid answer: what is your plan should the unthinkable occur? Imagine this scenario: you are blissfully lecturing a room full of young minds when a lunatic with a small arsenal casually strides into your classroom and starts shooting. As he opens fire on you and your students, what is your plan? In the immediacy of that moment, what are you going to do? Are you going to plead for your life? Run? Tell the intruder that your classroom is a gun-free zone? Do tell.
Let me help you understand what is going to happen. You are going to the hospital at best and to the morgue at worst. And several of your students are going to join you at one of those two locations. Same scenario, but a trained concealed handgun carrier is sitting near the classroom door and sees the threat coming in. As the intruder raises his weapon in your direction, the concealed carrier draws her Glock and drains half of a 17-round mag into the guy. What will you do then? Again, let me help. You are going to go home and hug your loved ones.

Maybe your fear resides in the idea that a student will knock a teacher out, steal his/her gun, and open fire on his classmates. Granted this is a possibility (a remote possibility, but a possibility nonetheless), but it is still preferable to a student coming from home with a backpack full of loaded mags and multiple weapons. Don't forget that Mrs. Jones or Mr. Williams in the classrooms next door just might be carrying their own weapons and will be able to act as first responders to our rogue student's rampage. It's still better than waiting 5-10 minutes for police to arrive. As educators, we are exceptionally good at distinguishing fact from fiction. We see through the fantasy, peddled by the gun lobby, that we would somehow be safer if our colleagues, students, or visitors were allowed to sit in our classrooms, attend tailgates and parties or roam our campuses while armed. Obviously you are not "exceptionally good at distinguishing fact from fiction." Either that, or you prefer to dwell in the land of fiction where you get to make up your own set of facts. Gun free zones are simply high-body count zones or low-resistance zones to a lunatic with a gun who demonstrates little proclivity for obedience to the law.
We vow to vigorously fight any legislation that would allow civilians to bring guns into America’s primary schools, secondary schools and institutions of higher education. We resolve to speak out against attempts to normalize the presence of guns in places of learning. And we pledge to stand up for the safety of American educational spaces. If you were truly committed to campus safety, you would embrace the one thing that scares the hell out of a bad guy with a gun - and that is the presence of a legal gun owner who wisely carries her/his weapon.
If you've read all of this and still want to sign the Everytown pledge for Educators for Gun Sense, here is the link.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Idiots Happen - A Personal Road Rage Story

I had this experience a few weeks ago on my way to work. For the record, my 15-year-old son was in the car with me. Read all the way to the bottom for the defensive lessons in this situation.

I was driving down a 3-lane road which had been partially washed out in Hurricane Matthew. Construction had closed the west-bound side of this road (which I use in the morning), forcing traffic into the center turn lane to get around the work. I was approaching this construction when another driver in a large propane company work truck tried to cut me off from the rear, nearly forcing me into the cones marking the construction zone. I got in front of him, but not without a hard look as if to say, "Dude! What are you doing?!"

Just beyond the construction is a 4-way traffic light. I stopped to wait for the light to go green, and my 'friend' was sitting on my rear bumper the whole time. The light turned green and I proceeded through the intersection with Speedy Gonzalez on my tail. Two miles up the street from that light is the entrance to the campus of the college at which I teach. I turned on my turn signal, and looked into the mirror to see my companion waving violently for me to get out of his way. When I touched the brakes to slow for the turn, the guy nearly drove through me. I pulled into the turn lane as he swerved wildly around me.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. The guy got about 50 feet beyond me and STOPPED in the middle of traffic. For just a second I saw him sitting there before he drove slowly down the street. I expected him to just go on his way. I was wrong.

Instead of resuming his hasty trek to work, he proceeded to a service entrance at the rear of campus and entered the parking area. I watched him as he cruised across the lot toward me. "Here we go," I thought. I told my son to keep an eye on him as I drove through campus toward the Automotive Repair department, which is a gated space. I figured he would be reluctant to follow me into a gated area of campus. Again, I was wrong.

We lost sight of the guy behind a service building. I briefly parked, then turned my vehicle around to watch the gate. Sure enough, the tailgater followed me into a GATED AREA in order to confront me about his problem.

Seeing that this guy had something to share, I rolled down my window, and the conversation went thus:
Me, incredulous: "What are you doing!?"
Him, sternly: "Why did you hit you brakes and try to wreck me?"
Me: "I was pulling onto campus. You would have been fine if you hadn't been riding my tail the entire way here."
Him: "You didn't need to hit your brakes."
Me: " I WAS MAKING A LEGAL TURN! Here's the rub, man. You were in such a hurry that you tailgated me all the way here, and then, given the chance to just go on with your business, decided to follow me all the way here. I do have to thank you, though, for giving me the chance to get your business name and truck number. I'll be making a call to your manager in just a bit."
Him: "You do that. I'll tell them how you hit your brakes and tried to wreck me."
Me: "I'm sure they'll be sympathetic. Just don't leave out the part about riding my bumper for 3 miles."

With that, he threw his truck in reverse and pulled off with a few parting words.

As we were watching the guy leave, my son looked at me and said, "It's all right dad. I could have taken him." 😀

I did call his manager, who apologized for the incident. By the time we were finished with the conversation, he was asking me about self-defense classes.

Lessons from my point of view:
- Road rage is stupid. Don't get involved unless you have no choice. If you are the one initiating the conflict, you have a choice.
- Avoid the conflict. I sent as many signals as I could from the confines of my vehicle that I didn't want to have anything to do with this guy's issues. I drove away from him. I went to a gated area of campus (one that would naturally indicate 'off limits' to outsiders. Only when he was intent on addressing the issue did I engage him verbally (because I certainly didn't want this guy following me to the building where I work).
- Stay cool, even when faced with conflict. My adrenaline spiked, but I was still in control of myself. I didn't let my monkey brain take over entirely. The fact that I focused on letting the guy know that I would be reporting his behavior to his supervisor indicated that I wasn't going to get physically involved with him.

Lessons from his point of view:
- Road rage is stupid. Don't get involved unless you have no choice. This guy had a choice.
- Since he followed me all the way across campus, he had time to think about his choice. He still opted to engage me in open hostility.
- He is lucky that he targeted me to vent his ire. I live in the country. People here take their pride seriously. Had he targeted one of thousands of other inhabitants of this area, he would have been yanked out of his truck through the window and stomped into the pavement. I've read enough books and seen enough stupidity to recognize that this guy was on a rant. I let him vent his spleen and go on with a perceived victory.
- When driving a company vehicle, he is representing his company. The company's image becomes the image he conveys through his driving and any other actions. Suffice it to say that my image of his company is severely tarnished, as are those of the people he nearly wrecked on the road when he stopped traffic.

Road rage has the potential to go horribly, horribly wrong. Sometimes you will find yourself on the wrong side of someone behind the wheel. If that happens, remind yourself to think clearly, don't escalate the situation (shouting at or gesturing toward the other driver), and avoid the other driver - to your own inconvenience if necessary.

Drive alertly, and be safe.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Traffic Stops - An Anecdotal Lesson in Defense

Some years ago, a former middle-school classmate and I found each other on Facebook and discovered that despite being hundreds of miles from our old school, we lived just a few miles from one another in a totally different state. We connected as friends and have kept up with each other ever since.

Just a couple of weeks ago, this friend was traveling through a dark neighborhood miles from home when she was pulled over by what she believed was one of North Carolina's men in blue.

She couldn't have been more wrong.

Read the story for yourself:

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A man pretending to be a law enforcement officer pulled a woman over Tuesday and robbed her of her purse at gunpoint, Durham County sheriff’s deputies said.
Deputies are urging people to be on the lookout for the robber, who displayed a single blue light on the dark-colored SUV he was driving.
The man used the light to pull the woman over at about 10:30 p.m. on Big Horn Road near Guess Road, then approached the woman’s vehicle brandishing what looked like a rifle, according to deputies.
He took her purse and fled, leaving her unharmed, deputies said.
Deputies launched an “exhaustive” search, but were unable to find the man, who remains at large.
The sheriff’s office said drivers being pulled over by unmarked vehicles can call 911 to verify the vehicle behind them contains a legitimate law enforcement officer.
Durham police recently reported that someone had stolen a number of police uniforms. The robber in this case was described by the victim as wearing dark-colored clothing and a beanie hat, deputies said. He was also wearing a mask. (Source)
First of all, kudos to Kimberly for keeping it together enough to get a decent description of the suspect and not losing her life in the process of one of the worst experiences most of us can imagine. This could have been far FAR worse.

After hearing the story, I immediately reached out to Kimberly for clarification of the media narrative. After some back and forth, I have a pretty good understanding of what happened. I then reached out to two friends: one who is a chief of police in a nearby town (Chief Matthews) and another who is a defense attorney (Mr. Brantley). I wanted to get some perspective on the best way of managing a nighttime stop. What follows are the lessons I gathered from these two friends*.

Both Chief Matthews and Mr. Brantley agree on the following protocols for experiencing a nighttime stop in which the authenticity of the police officer is undetermined:
1 - Reduce speed. Few things in the process of following a suspect vehicle with flashing blues will make an officer twitch like failing to reduce speed. The prospect of a high-speed chase is not a seed you want to plant in the officer's mind.
2 - Turn on emergency flashers. Doing so will alert the officer that you know he is there.
3 - Call 911. The 911 operator should be able to query local police dispatchers to verify that the officer following you is indeed legitimate. If local police are not working the area, the operator should be able to connect you to (or communicate directly with) the state highway patrol for verification.
4 - Drive to the nearest well-lit and decently populated area. Putting yourself in clear visibility of numerous witnesses will be a deterrent to would-be thieves

Chief Matthews also adds that turning on the inside dome light is a good idea as it allows the officer to see that you are not prepping a weapon to be used against him/her once you are on the side of the road.

I further inquired of Chief Matthews about how best to identify a legitimate unmarked cruiser, particularly in the dark. His initial single-word answer speaks volumes:

"Lights."

Chief Matthews went on to say that lights are to a cop what crack is to an addict. There are never enough. A single blue dashboard light (as was used against Kimberly) is rarely if ever the only light in use. Real police cruisers should have, at a minimum, the dashboard light, wig-wag headlamps, and strobe-effect turn signals front and rear. Additional lights might include colored (red or blue) grill lights. Basically, the officer wants the area surrounding the stop to be well illuminated and the cruiser well identified for his safety and yours (to avoid roadside collisions by passing traffic).

As Kimberly was reflecting on the experience with me, she offered a very poignant observation: "I realized we become 'comfortable' in our live's routines. And blue light automatically meant police." She was compelled to stop because her experience with police had become a matter of blind obedience and compliance.

Now, that's not to say we should disobey the directives of sworn officers of the law. However, there's nothing wrong with ensuring that the individual about to confront you on the side of the road is indeed an officer.

To quote Ronald Reagan, "Trust, but verify."

-------------------------------------------------------

* Bear in mind that these rules/laws apply to drivers in North Carolina. Rules in other states may vary. Consult a legal professional in your state for appropriate steps to take under similar circumstances.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Beware the Bad Self-Defense Advice

** I write the following blog with all deference to Mr. Emerson's service to our country. As the son of a 20-year Navy veteran and the father of a United States Army Soldier, I hold nothing but the highest esteem for our serving men and women. This article is, in no way, intended to impugn Emerson's service to this country. **

So the video below popped up in my suggested videos on YouTube today, and I simply could not help myself in posting it here.

There is an abundance of bad self-defense information on YouTube. The typical source of this bad information is usually some guy who esteems himself an 'expert' in self-defense and martial arts (despite having zero credentials supporting the claim) and thus goes about making instructional videos. This video, however, is different. A former Navy SEAL is presenting the information, thus lending implied credibility to its validity.

Further, a somewhat-major news entity, CBN, is presenting the information to its viewers, lending their own credibility to the story. Thus, one would expect that information from a Navy SEAL being promoted by CBN News would be doubly credible and thus highly reliable.

But it's not.

Take 10 minutes to watch this clip from The 700 Club. Then see my analysis below.



Did you see the bad information there? If so, kudos. If not, stick around and let's talk about it.

I want to point out at least 3 major problems with this information, including one thing that will land you in jail so quickly that you won't have time to say, "APPEAL!"

Before I start, I must say that I question the credibility of any 'expert' (SEAL or otherwise) who refers to a long gun as an 'assault rifle'. The term is a media contrivance that is intended to create a sense of fear in listeners and perpetuate a narrative that claims that somehow a weapon with a pistol grip and a barrel shroud is somehow deadlier than its counterpart without those add-ons. A rifle is a rifle. A handgun is a handgun. Trying to differentiate them based on appearance is stupid. Sure it might have been a slip of the tongue on his part, but that does nothing to change the fact that the words came out of his mouth.

Now, back on track.

Problem #1 - The Pen Attack
While I fully embrace the use of a pen for personal protection and totally agree that a steel-barreled pen is superior to plastic, it's worth noting that Emerson's assertion that a plastic pen will break is not exactly accurate. Here are a couple of experiments you can try at home:
1 - take a normal wood pencil. Break it in half, then break each half in half. How hard was the first break compared to the second break? Did it take more effort to break the individual halves? Now try breaking the fourths in half. How much effort does it take? A bunch, actually, due to the necessity of leverage in breaking the pencil. Keep that in mind while we cover point number two.
2 - buy a Bic plastic barreled pen and a watermelon (a pumpkin will also work, depending on the season in which you read this). Remove the cap of the pen (a la Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity apartment scene) and hold it in a point-down grip. Position the watermelon on a surface and stab it a few times. Did the pen snap in half in your hand? If you have a firm grip and about one inch of stabbing length extending from your hand, I'm guessing that the pen held up just fine.

So in a crisis situation where you have to act on the fly to defend yourself, the material from which the pen is constructed isn't really the biggest factor here - actually having the pen in your hand at the time of need is.

After Emerson has decreed the virtue of metal pens, he demonstrates an attack to the eyes with the weapon. Good idea in theory but not in practice. Generally speaking, a victim who is juiced up on adrenaline isn't going to have the accuracy to actually hit a target the size of a quarter. Sure there are exceptions to the general rule of adrenal response, but the abundance of people will have little to no accuracy under stress. Stabbing the eyes will likely fail. Sure it would suck to get stabbed in the face with a pen, but deluding people into believing that the eyes are a viable target under stress is dangerous.

Emerson goes on to say that ribs and kidneys are also good targets. On this point, I totally agree. I would add, however, that the thighs and neck are also target zones that can have the desired effect of inflicting pain and/or debilitating the threat.

Problem #2 - Sacrificial Lambs Limbs
Emerson discusses knife defense, asserting that one should sacrifice, "A limb for a life." This is a neat concept in theory, but I am not at all excited about teaching the prospect of getting slashed to the bone in knife defense.

I have and always will assert that the best knife defense is to keep distance and/or run like hell.

Emerson instructs viewers to wrap a towel around an arm to reduce the degree of injury from trading limb for life. Now, if you are anything like me, you walk around at all times with a towel in your pocket for just such a contingency. And, when faced with a threat, you always ask for time to wrap your arm before the attack begins.

Emerson's tip is one for planned engagements in which both parties - attacker and defender - are acutely aware of the nature of their situation. A home invasion may allow for the towel. So might a violent incursion at work (replacing the towel with a jacket or other material). For a street-level surprise attack, Emerson's tip holds zero value. The victim, finding himself unprepared and towel-less (?) will be quick work for the street predator. Even if our victim has a towel, there is no way to pause the attack and wrap the towel around an arm before being gored to death.

On a good news note, however, that towel will serve the purpose of wrapping your wounds to stem some of the bleeding. So... at least there is that...

Problem #3 - The Fast Track to Prison
Emerson's newspaper idea started strong and then went south in a hurry. For the moment, I will overlook the fact that finding a newspaper, opening it, rolling it up, punching a nail through it, folding it in half, and then bludgeoning your attacker with it is a touch tricky when under attack.

I will assume for the moment that this paper weapon was prepared in advance (which is the ONLY practical possibility here) and that the attack is happening in the home (since no one is going to pack this weapon for trips to the grocery store).

The nail. That is the biggest sticking point (pun intended) with this weapon. Adding the nail does more than just increase the pain factor; it increases the legal liability factor. It shows malicious intent in planning violence. The desired effect of inflicting pain can be achieved without the nail. The presence of a pointy spike simply speaks to the violent mindset of the person who built the weapon - and that mindset will not go over well with a jury of reasonable people.

Someone I knew as a young teenager found some barbed wire in the forest, brought it home, and wrapped it around a baseball bat. His father encountered his 'enhanced bludgeoning device' hiding in his closet, at which time he spirited it away to the garage for safekeeping. What that young man failed to realize at the time was that taking a potential weapon (the bat) and enhancing it to be more lethal (the barbed wire) shows malicious intent, and prosecutors just LOVE intent.

Using a newspaper weapon (with or without a nail) or a bat (with or without barbed wire) implies that the need for lethal force was not required. By using this paper-and-nail bludgeon, the force level scales upwards to potentially lethal levels, not unlike using a knife or a firearm. In the eyes of a jury, you planned, just in making the weapon, to take a non-lethal engagement to lethal levels. Without one hell of a good lawyer and a creative explanation for that use of force, the guilty verdict is all but assured.

On the up side, your ability to improvise deadly weapons will be a particularly handy skill in prison.

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It is difficult to cull the bad information from the good. It is sometimes easy to fall under the spell of someone whose credentials indicate that they should have a level of expertise - like a Navy SEAL (or an Army Ranger, or a LEO, or a martial arts 'expert') - even for people with years of experience in self-defense-related training. Most (like... practically ALL) of the videos you see online have holes in reliability and practicality. Far too many of them will land you in a prison cell if you apply what you see in them.

I will tell you this: virtually ALL of the self-defense information you find online is unreliable (including what you read on this website) due to the fact that violence is an extremely fluid event. Each attack, while demonstrating certain predictable elements, is unique and requires on-the-fly decision making. Without sufficient training in violence, self-defense, self-defense law, physiological response to stress, and a number of other variables, every guru's video you watch will be incomplete at best and downright dangerous at worst.

Take everything you see and hear with a grain of salt - even what I write here. Watch the videos, train the techniques (in a controlled environment) at length to verify their effectiveness and practicality, and seek counsel to determine the legal ramifications of implementing what you have seen.

If you fail to do any of the above, please remember to say hello to your cellmate Bubba for me... that is assuming you aren't looking for a way to haunt your online guru from the other side.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Violence is What Happens When Self Defense Fails

One of the key issues I face in the realm of teaching self defense is the misconception that self defense equals violence. Given that we are a society that abhors violence of all stripes irrespective of its occasional necessity in our lives, recruiting students for a self-defense class becomes difficult at best and impossible at worst. If people equate self defense with violence, the natural outcome of recruitment is classes with one or two students who, we hope, will stick around for the duration of an 8-week 16-hour course. Avoiding violence is preferable to learning it.

There is, however, a problem with this public perception: self-defense is actually about 98% non-violent. Violence is what happens when self-defense fails.

I assign blame for this perception to the over-zealous self-defense instructors who bill their programs as a pathway to stopping any attacker with devastating techniques. They promote the violent aspects of their course - the knockout blows, the knees to the groin, the shattered eardrums - without acknowledging what actually constitutes self defense - awareness, self-restraint, and the ability to suppress the ego and walk away.

A legitimate self-defense course is going to spend the bulk of its meeting time covering ways to AVOID violent encounters. Regardless of the bunk being spewed by liberal institutions nationwide (here in the US, anyway. My international readers can otherwise inform me if their countries perpetuate a different narrative), there are relatively simple methods to avoiding violence. There are ways to prevent being raped. There are ways to prevent getting your ass kicked. There are ways to avoid being the victim of theft or carjacking. And all of them involve changing - and sometimes restraining- personal behaviors.

So let's talk self defense for a bit. How do we avoid violent encounters? There's really no secret here; it is a simple matter of common sense.

Pay Attention - this is not a particularly complicated subject. Look around wherever you go. That does NOT mean skulk around in a paranoid state all the time. Instead, take occasional quick looks around and behind you as you walk. Don't stare at your phone as you walk. Don't listen to music through headphones as you jog. Of course there is more to awareness than this short paragraph, but these are some simple first steps.

Talk Less - few things will get you in trouble faster than your mouth. Sounding off on someone for what you perceive as annoyances or insults will have a fairly predictable result. Smart-assed comments hurled at others will gain unwanted (and usually hostile) attention. Thus, when that guy takes 'your' parking spot or bumps into you at the mall, keep it quiet and move along. If you find yourself on the wrong side of an aggravated soul who has decided that you have wronged them, just remember that there is no winning in having the last word. Let the bigmouth say what he wants to say and be done with it. The more you talk, the more you run the risk of giving the actual aggressor a self-justified reason to beat you senseless.

Apologize, and Mean It - If you have earned the unwanted attention of an aggressor, apologizing is a legitimate tactic for avoiding potential violence. Men are particularly territorial, so challenges like, "What are YOU looking at, butthead?" are fairly common. Responding in kind is the start of a potentially violent encounter. A better response? "Sorry, man. I just had a long day at work and zoned out. Nothing personal here. Can I get you a beer or something?"

Have Fun, but Control Yourself - I went to college. I know what the party scene is like. I also know that the parties are just as much fun (sometimes more fun) without getting falling-over drunk. Any time you lose control of your faculties, you run the risk of experiencing harmful fallout. This is true for both men and women. Men get sauced and feel inclined to engage in games of social dominance. Women get sauced and become the targets of men who see opportunity in weakness. (An aside: Spare me the lecture about how 'men should not rape'. I agree entirely, but until we live in a world where men do NOT rape, let's exercise some natural protections, shall we?) The obvious solution: don't get sauced. Over-consumption of alcohol is a disaster waiting to happen. I have seen the most austere and respectable people turn into a complete asses when that one glass of wine turned into 4 glasses of wine. Couple that with other people who have been drinking, and the table is set for trouble. Drink in moderation, enjoy yourself, but be ready to leave should others not show similar restraint.

Don't Go Places Where Bad Things Happen - If a place has a history of trouble, why in the world would you go there? There are bad parts of town where I live. I don't go to those parts of town without a damned good reason. I also don't walk through dark alleys. Or go to seedy bars. Or 24-hour convenience stores. Or ATMs at night. Some places just have a reputation for being dangerous. The simple solution is to avoid being there.

Self-defense isn't a physical act. Violence is. A decent self-defense class will include instruction in the nuances of the above topics. A class being billed as personal protection or self-defense that fails to cover these topics is actually a class about fighting. That's not necessarily a bad thing - fighting ability is a valuable skill to possess and a great form of exercise - but it is not true self defense.

If you exercise a few simple habits of restraint in your everyday life, you will find the potential for violence is reduced dramatically. Most of the violent encounters people experience can be avoided. It is the relative minority of events that actually require someone to engage in violent physical defense.