Sunday, July 1, 2018

Unmasking Self-Defense

The internet chock full of all sorts of information that is billed as THE unequivocal method for saving yourself from people with bad intentions. Take a minute to do a search on YouTube for self-defense techniques. Watch a few of them. With a few exceptions, most of those 'self-defense' instructional videos would be more accurately billed as ways to get yourself killed or arrested.

I've previously written about what one should look for when choosing a self-defense instructor. The purpose of today's blog is to clarify exactly what self-defense is and what it isn't.

Self-defense is Passive

Contrary to pretty much all of the videos you found in the YouTube search, self-defense is not a series of moves, strikes, blocks, parries, joint manipulations, or throws. Most of that stuff is what I term parlor tricks and sleight-of-hand. Very few of the tricks you see being taught online will have the desired effect on a threat with serious intentions of doing you harm.

Some of my favorite ads (to make fun of) on social media come from a company with an instructor who bills himself as THE self-defense guru. Promotional videos feature this charlatan striking a BOB (basically, a man-shaped rubber punching bag), throwing 100-pound weighted bags, and conditioning the body with bricks. For the quoted price, you too can learn to beat the crap out of yourself.

That's not self-defense. It's a steaming pile of bull-manure.

In my estimation, this myth - that self-defense is violence - is the very reason it's hard to fill classes with students who want to learn to protect themselves. Most stable human beings - even those whose experience is in violent fields - abhor being violent. We prefer to avoid conflict, often to our own detriment, for the sake of avoiding the potential for physical violence. When the self-defense class is billed as a path to being intentionally violent, rational and well-adjusted human beings balk at the idea, and classes go under-populated.

If we could get beyond the garbage being peddled by charlatans on YouTube, it might be possible to get people to understand what constitutes real self-defense: awareness and communication.

Let's look at a few things that fall under those categories.

Situational Awareness

Here's a basic truth: you cannot defend what you cannot see. People who live in their phones (while jogging, while walking to the car, while working, or just in general) have not a foggy clue what's going on around them. They are prime targets for violence.

I can't count the numbers of times I've walked up to people on sidewalks, in malls, or at the grocery store and had them almost jump out of their skin when they realized I was there. Fortunately for them I'm not one to victimize others. Had it been the case that I was a predator, I would have had practically zero resistance in victimizing these people. Nevertheless, once I was beyond their proximal area, they were back in their phones.

Such people are just victims looking for a place to be victimized.

Awareness is knowing what's around you at any given point in time. It's knowing where the exits are when you sit down to eat at a restaurant. It's knowing the baseline for 'normal' for anywhere you might be - work, home, the grocery store, the sidewalk. It's recognizing when the baseline has been interrupted.

Awareness is a skill - one that can be developed and refined. It is a teachable skill that should comprise the content of the first lesson in a self-defense course.


Call it verbal judo, managing your mouth, or just plain shutting your pie-hole. Whatever it is, communication is an essential part of self-defense.

Communication includes such talents as saying nothing when an arrogant moron bumps into you at the store and doesn't apologize, apologizing for something that you didn't actually do or say, or just walking away and letting an idiot win.

I had this experience just a few days ago. A man who I perceived to be a contractor working on a rental across the street confronted me about parking in front of the house. His partner knocked on the door and politely asked if I would move my car so they could hook up their work trailer, which was parked behind my car. "No problem," I told him, and I moved the vehicle.

As I was walking back to the house from the car, the guy wanted to get 'helpful' by telling me where I should and shouldn't park. He was about 30 seconds into telling me that he would be my new (obnoxious) neighbor when I told him, "I didn't know that you're moving in there. Thanks for telling me." He continued his 'instructional' tirade as I walked away repeatedly saying, "Thanks for letting me know."

Communication is the art of talking your way out of the situation. The talent is nuanced, thus it is worthy of study. Rory Miller's Conflict Communication is a great place to start that study.

To summarize, self-defense is intentionally taking every available opportunity to avoid conflict.

Now, let's look at what the lunatics on YouTube peddle as self-defense.

Violence is not Self-Defense

A couple years ago, I wrote an article entitled Violence is What Happens When Self Defense Fails. I highly recommend it after you've reached the end of this article.

What traditional self-defense gurus teach too often goes beyond the principles of self protection and into the realm of legally questionable aggression. If the proposed defense against, say, a wrist grab ends with a grounded opponent in an arm bar, it's not self defense. Any series of moves that ends with a choke is probably illegal and liable to land the 'defender' in prison.

There's an answer I use profusely in my self-defense instruction when people ask me, "What would you do if..." It sounds something like this:

"It depends."

It's a cop out, right? "Maybe this Defcon Keith guy doesn't really know his stuff." Caveat emptor and all that.

However, it's the truest answer that can be rendered under most circumstances.

Let's take that wrist grab, for example. "What would you do if some guy grabbed your wrist?" Well, it depends.

Do you know him? Is he your date who's had one too many? Is he a stranger who just stepped out of the shadows? Does he have a weapon? Did he grab your wrist and yank you toward him? Did he just put his hand on your wrist? Was there any relevant activity that preceded the grab? Had he indicated violent intent?

So.. yeah. What you do in that particular moment depends on the totality of the circumstances, not just a snapshot of an act.

That YouTube sifu with the snappy joint manipulation technique that renders your 'attacker' disabled for life with a dislocated shoulder and elbow is responding only to the snapshot. Following his instructions would be, in my professional opinion, absolutely lunatic. There are just too many variables to consider.

Violence is, well... violent. Again, read Violence Dynamics, an article I wrote on the topic earlier this year. However, it is important not to conflate violence with defense. The two are not necessarily equal, even under circumstances that you might deem threatening.

Questions? Please leave them in the comments below. I'll try to respond with more than just, "It depends."

Be safe.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

National School Walkout

I sit here on the eve of yet another school walkout event to petition government leaders to do something - anything - to end the scourge of violence that seems to all-too-frequently plague our gun-wary society.

The brains behind this week's walkout is Lane Murdock, a lucid and erudite 16-year-old from Connecticut who, in her own words, is tired of seeing students die. I applaud Ms. Murdock and her keen sense of activism (and timing, given that April 20th is the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shootings). Young people need to be encouraged to take the world by the reins and chart their course in life.

But... and you knew there would be a but...

We are all tired of seeing children die. Where people like Ms. Murdock and I experience the greatest divergence is in our proposed solutions to the problem of school violence and, most poignantly, mass shootings.

Ms. Murdock's school walkout is a mass protest event in which students across the nation will leave their classrooms at precisely 10:00 AM and stand outside in remembrance of those young people who have lost their lives to mass shooters. Unlike the March 14th walkouts, students will not simply return to class after a 17-minute period of remembrance and reflection. Instead, they are encouraged to leave school to demonstrate outside of legislative buildings, spam social media with messages of gun-control advocacy, make phone calls to legislators, and generally demand that the government save them by curtailing the rights that the founders fought so hard to provide and protect.

For the first time in my own history, I am watching young people demand that government strip them of their rights to self protection. These student activists are demanding that government ban and/or severely restrict the availability of the very tools that criminals and tyrants would use to subjugate them.

These are dangerous times.

What is most troubling about these protests is that they are born of fear and ignorance, two of the most destructive characteristics in modern political activism.

Fear is a rational response to school shooting events. However, using that fear to justify punishing more than 100 million gun owners for the behaviors of one lunatic is one of the very reasons we have a Bill of Rights in the first place. The Constitution prevents us from engaging in knee-jerk reactions to events that would severely negatively impact the inherent rights of an otherwise free people.

Fear is also a legitimate feeling to have in the classroom, given that it is all but impossible to determine which student has the potential to turn into the next mass murderer who takes out his frustrations or anger on his classmates. I remember in the early days of my professional teaching career when our entire school was in constant fear of a rampage shooter. The impetus for that fear? The Columbine shooting. It was the third in a rash of high-profile shootings (Jonesboro, AR and Paducah, KY were the others) that had occurred, and it was by far the worst. At my school, teachers and students alike were eyeballing each other, trying in vain to identify which of us would be the most likely person to kill his classmates.

I understand the fear; I have experienced it myself on more than one occasion. It is important, however, to recognize the source of that fear, and it's not the availability of guns.

This fear is bred from ignorance, and the ignorance is borne out of media saturation that becomes the easy method of research conducted by gun-control proponents. Media and political ideologues have proliferated the idea that AR- and AK-style rifles are the issue and should be banned from public use. Those same entities have also perpetuated the narrative that there is no legitimate reason for private citizens to own 'weapons of war' (which is how they characterize AR/AK-style weapons). Finally, gun-control advocates have promoted the belief that a gun ban will have the desired effect of ending school violence.

All of these proposals are demonstrably and provably false. They are lies, but they are very convincing lies.

Lie #1 - AR-15s are the Problem

The AR-15 has been available to the general public since the 1960s. In the ensuing 50 years, they have only come under scrutiny since the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School where a disturbed individual used a Bushmaster XM-15 (an AR-variant) to kill 26 innocent people. The Sandy Hook event closely followed the Colorado theater massacre in which the shooter used a similar rifle, thus bringing the 'assault rifle' into the national media narrative on gun violence.

For the 50 or so years leading up to those events, however, the AR-15 enjoyed relative obscurity as a hobbyists weapon of choice. It's only recently that it has earned the label as a mass killing machine.

Further, approximately 10 million AR-style weapons are already in the hands of private citizens, yet they are rarely used to perpetuate mass killings (though they are growing in popularity for that purpose, partially as a result of aggressive media coverage of shooters and their weapons). If AR-platform weapons were indeed a primary tool of violence, there would be stacks of bodies resulting from their use.

There are no stacks of bodies because 99.9% of AR-platform weapons are never used to kill other people.

Lie # 2 - There is No Reason for Civilians to Own AR-15s

The second point of contention - the idea that no legitimate uses for the AR exist outside of killing masses of people - is equally ignorant. Here is a short list of possible uses for such a weapon:
  • target shooting
  • varmint/predator control
  • hunting
  • competition shooting
  • tactical training
  • teaching weapon safety to youth
  • personal defense against multiple assailants (social unrest)

Given that most AR-platform rifles are used for the purposes listed above, banning them from civilian use due to their incredibly rare use as a rampage weapon is the epitome of overreach.

Lie #3 - Banning Assault Rifles Will Stop Mass Shootings/Killings

The lie that probably is the most counter-intuitive is the belief that banning a weapon (or engaging in the passage of additional gun-control measures) will stop violent rampages. For proof of the errancy of this belief, we need only look to history and those places where such bans have been applied.

Here in the United States, we have tried banning morally offensive yet socially popular products for nearly a century. In 1919, the United States passed the 18th Amendment, effectively banning the production, sale, and transport of alcohol in the country. The result of this legislation was predictable - black markets for alcohol were prolific, organized crime skyrocketed, and more people took to drinking than had been doing so before prohibition.

Due to the immense failure of prohibition, the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933.

In similar fashion, the United States has waged a very expensive and terribly pointless War on Drugs for nearly five decades. In 1971, Nixon declared that drug abuse was, "Public enemy number one." In the 1980s, Nancy Reagan exhorted kids to, "Just say no!"

Now, almost 50 years later, drugs are just as available as they were in the 70s, turf wars still happen as a result of gangs protecting their drug territories, and heroin use is at epidemic proportions. People cook meth in their kitchens and grow weed in their closets. Drug abuse in prison - one of the most highly restrictive environments in the country - is an impossible problem to overcome.

The drug ban is an abject failure.

So will be any American ban on guns. As a point of comparison, England banned the majority of handguns (shotguns and sporting rifles notwithstanding) in 1996. As a result, gun violence declined. So it was a success, right?

Not exactly. Now Englanders are busy slashing and stabbing each other to death. They are getting blown up or mowed down by vehicles. And, contrary to popular belief, they are still shooting each other.

In similar fashion, banning weapons in the United States (which is the ultimate goal, as stated by numerous gun-control advocates on various levels) will result in the obvious: proliferation of a black market for banned weapons and higher rates of victimization of a now-disarmed general public.

So What Do We Do?

Both fear and ignorance are curable conditions. Anyone who has read this far has already taken steps toward defeating ignorance of gun restrictions. Additional information can be gathered from those who have a working knowledge of firearms and their use.

Fear is cured by knowledge. Once Ms. Murdock takes a moment to stop planning how to surrender her rights, she can start to learn what she can do within the walls of her own school to keep herself safe. She can learn to improve her situational awareness. She can learn steps her school can take to keep people safe, including lockdown measures, effective barricading, and effective resistance. She can recommend to the local school board that her teachers have relevant training in active shooter response.

Knowledge is power, but more important, knowledge supplants fear with action. When she and her teachers are no longer bound by fear, they can stop expecting the government to run to their rescue. In fact, with a bit of training, she can realize her own power to save herself and her classmates from the (unlikely) possibility of facing an active threat.

"No child should have to learn how to hide from a shooter," Murdock states. I couldn't agree, but failing to learn an effective means of self-protection from a school rampage only perpetuates the fear that is fueling these walkouts.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

An Open Letter to President Trump on Why Arming Teachers is a Bad Idea

President Trump,

Allow me to start by saying congratulations on your monumental win over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Your candidacy was a particularly riveting one to watch. I only wish I could have been a fly on the wall in Hillary's green room when she learned of her resounding defeat.

Now, on to more pressing matters.

I have been a classroom teacher for just shy of 24 years. I am also a shooting enthusiast, long-time firearms owner, NRA member, self-defense instructor, and student of active shooting events. I've read a stack of books on the subjects of violence and school rampages. I have imagined scenarios too horrific for most minds to contemplate - and then imagined ways to counteract those imaginary events. My ultimate goal is to fully understand how and why active killing rampages happen and how best to stop them.

Arming teachers, Mr. President, is not the answer to the scourge of school rampages for a host of reasons.

Let me first point out, however, that complex problems are rarely solved with simple solutions. Both sides of the political aisle were quick to jump feet first into offering their one-step approaches to ending school violence. The Progressive Left wants to ban anything remotely resembling a gun, not only from school campuses but from the hands of private owners also. Meanwhile, the Conservative Right wants to put more guns in schools by arming teachers.

Both of these solutions are outright folly.

You and I both, Mr. President, understand why the Progressive Left are wrong in their thinking. Banning scary guns was tried in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton. The UPenn study of the weapons ban concluded that the intended effects of the 10-year 'assault weapons' restrictions were marginal at best. Further, with nearly 10 million AK- and AR-platform weapons in the hands of private citizens today, any renewed ban would require confiscation to truly have any effect. We both know how attempts at gun confiscation would go.

Nevertheless, given that so many mass shooters acquire their weapons via straw purchase or theft, any weapons ban will have a negligible effect on violence, school rampages or other.

Now, to the recommendation that we arm teachers. In that regard, Mr. President, I must politely yet vehemently disagree. My contradiction is not based on the same rhetoric that has been commonly stated in public forums to date - that is that arming teachers will result in teachers shooting innocent bystanders, that they will be mistaken for the shooter by law enforcement, or that students will overpower them and take their weapons. All of those possibilities are real, but they are manageable with a minor amount of planning. There are, however, more pressing reasons to forego arming teachers.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, whose acquaintance you made at the White House meeting on video game violence, wrote in his eye-opening book On Killing that taking the life of another human being is a wholly unnatural act. Knowingly taking a human life requires a specialized form of training, and the closer in proximity one is to that target, the more difficult taking the shot becomes. Specialized military units experience countless hours of training in order to overcome our natural revulsion for killing other humans. Unless the plan is to subject teachers to summer-length spec-ops military-level training with ongoing refresher courses every weekend, the training you suggest to ready these teachers to take a human life will be woefully insignificant and thus ineffective.

That's not the end of the argument, however. Consider such a difficult task as taking a life in light of the fact that so many active threats are students who attend (or recently attended) the targeted schools. Try to imagine a teacher who comes face to face with a shooter who, just days before, was sitting in third-period algebra class. Such was the case in Paducah, KY; Jonesboro, AR; Springfield, OR; Littleton, CO; Parkland, FL; and a host of other school massacres.

The familiarity between teacher and shooter-student will be the downfall of the teacher and every student in the room. That teacher will have to look that shooter-student in the face as she/he pulls the trigger. In that moment, there will be hesitation, and hesitation in a life-or-death scenario will be deadly with the advantage going to the person who has already demonstrated contempt for human existence.

Arming teachers with guns will, intentionally or unintentionally, create a deep chasm between them and their students. Teachers already struggle to develop effective and constructive relationships with their students. Those relationships become all but impossible when the teacher is strapped. And heaven forbid (s)he should ever have to use that weapon in the presence of students.

Now, criticism without constructive feedback is just complaining, so permit me to offer some suggestions on how teachers should be 'armed' in order to respond to school rampages.

First, sanction training for all teachers in basic defensive tactics. These methods can be taught in a matter of hours and only require periodic repetition in order to retain. I teach them to my students, and I've shared these techniques with other teachers. To go further, provide twice-annual combat lifesaving training to enable teachers to perform basic lifesaving triage for injured students and staff.

Second, sanction active killer drills for all schools. Such drills should include law enforcement, teachers, and students in coordinated training to mitigate the numbers of targets available to a shooter. One might contend, as you yourself have, that such drills are, "a very negative thing." I couldn't disagree more. The plan is essential to survival - no different from fire or tornado drills. When I was a child growing up near naval bases, I experienced nuclear drills where we crawled under our desks and covered our heads. Our teachers were judicious in explaining these drills to us. Teachers today can do the same - assuming they put partisan politics aside.

Third, fund the hardening of schools. Providing classroom door locks that lock from the inside, installing bulletproof film on door windows and anti-intrusion systems on the doors themselves is a great start. There are plenty of great safety consultants who can aid you in this endeavor. Might I suggest a call to Curt Lavarello with the School Safety Advocacy Council. He is a terrific resource on the matter of hardening a school.

Finally, give teachers what they really need: permission to do whatever it takes to survive the threat. Teachers by and large are notorious sticklers for the rules. Let them know in no uncertain terms that they have permission to do whatever it takes to protect their students and themselves. While it may seem to be a rather obvious point, you might be surprised to learn that most people will not act unless they know they are permitted to do so. You are the highest authority in the land, Mr. President. Having your permission to act is a necessary and powerful mobilizer.

I completely respect your Office, and I respect the difficulty and gravity of the moment into which you have been thrust as President. Decisions must be made, and you have demonstrated that you are willing to act when others stand idly by. I implore you, however, to act in accordance with what teachers can and cannot do (or should/should not do) versus acting in the passion of the moment.

Thank you for your time, and thank you for your service to our great nation.

K.A. Webb

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Violence Dynamics

I teach self protection. That term - self-protection - encompasses a broad spectrum of ideas.

The initial principle of self-protection starts with keeping yourself out of situations that might ultimately lead to getting your ass handed to you on a platter. That means you pay attention to what is going on around you, you avoid places and situations that are dangerous, and you don't incite others to violence against you.

However, there will be times when all attempts at avoiding conflict fail and the necessity of violence comes into play. When violence becomes a necessary part of the defensive experience, there are a few things that you need to know.

1 - Your Opponent Is Probably More Experienced in Violence than You Are

In terms of social violence (the type of violence associated with such instances as the pissed off/drunk bar patron, a school bully, the ego-driven 'defender' of 'his' woman, etc.), people get confrontational because they are comfortable with being violent. In fact, they've probably experienced violence in ways well-adjusted people don't understand because that's how they were brought up. Violence defined their world - either in their homes or in their interactions with others.

A child who watched his mother abused by his father becomes well-versed in violence. A child whose parents beat him/her understand that violence is a means to an end, and they use it for whatever purpose they require. After years of conditioning, their proclivity for violence exceeds that of most people with whom they interact.

In asocial situations (defined by violence that occurs as a way of victimizing someone else for personal satisfaction - rape, mass shootings, armed robbery, mugging, etc.), the predator makes his livelihood off of his/her ability to subdue a victim for personal gain. In other words, their ability to subsist is dependent upon their ability to effectively force victims into compliance.

An asocial predator spends his time planning how to take something from his victims. While socially well-adjusted people go about their daily lives - thinking about work, school, evening activities, social functions - the predator spends the majority of his time plotting and perfecting the art of victimizing others.

Due to a prolonged experience with violence, your 'opponent' is more experienced with and better at engaging in violence than you are, and he will use that advantage to more effectively victimize you. Unless you study this fact and understand its role before engaging in self-defense, you will be overwhelmed by your attacker.

2 - There is no 'Always' in Violence

Violence is an incredibly dynamic event. Advantage can change without warning multiple times and not always in your favor. What started as an unarmed conflict can transition into a knife attack with terrifying speed. Your balance will be compromised, your fine motor skills will probably disappear, and everything you learned about fighting on your feet will go right out the window.

In other words, when you execute your self defense, anything that you believe will always work won't.

I can't tell you the number of times I hear people say, "Stab the attacker in the eyes with your finger/a pen/scissors. It will stop them in their tracks." I wrote about one such occurrence here. I watched another person say it on an episode of Inside Edition, which seems to have a series of 'self-defense' videos for your amusement. A few dozen active shooter training videos also have instructors who seem to think that the eyes are a show stopper for an attacker.

Problem is, it's not. Stabbing someone in the face - no matter how painful - will have myriad effects on an attacker. Some will stop and grab their eyes as they scream in pain. Others will fall into stunned indifference to the experience to having their eyes gouged out. Still other attackers will become enraged and amp up their attack.

What about shooting someone? That always works. Right?

Nope. I'm reminded of the story of a police officer who found himself in a gunfight with a robbery suspect. In the exchange, the suspect was hit 17 times. The suspect kept shooting back in spite of taking 16 .45 ACP rounds. It was only a shot to the suspect's head that ultimately shut him down for good.

Those one-shot one-kill experiences are the stuff of Hollywood, which rarely depicts real violence.

Have you ever seen a video of a PCP fiend (viewer discretion SERIOUSLY advised) who just ignores pain? Their system doesn't respond to pain like yours and mine do. Drunk people also have incredibly slow pain response. A variety of opioids also diminish pain sensitivity.

'Always' in self-defense training is false and misleading.

That 'fail safe' technique that you train over and over because your sifu said it will always work is going to fail - either because your attacker is amped up on something or because the attack won't meet the strict parameters of your training experience.

I try to tell my students this, but it often falls on deaf ears. The best training goes right out the window in the face of real violence because real violence does not mirror what was trained in class.

If you think it's going to work, plan on it failing. In fact, any plan you have for self-defense is probably going to fail. Training sets of principles (versus training specific sets of moves or techniques) will allow for adaptability under stress, because your 'always' technique will probably leave you bleeding in a gutter.

3 - There is no 'Never' in Violence

Whatever act of violence you think, "Nah. No attacker would ever do that." Count on that happening. Remember point number one - your attacker is well-versed in violence. That guy has probably spent more time thinking of ways to feed you your ass than you have spent thinking about defending yourself against him. You can count on him to be creative in making sure you are a victim.

Remember what I said about your attacker making a livelihood out of victimizing you? Yep. And in perfecting that craft, he has thought of a lot of unpleasant ways to mess you up.

I remember the first and only time I watched The Sopranos. Tony Soprano was 'sending a message' to an opposing member of a crime family. He forced the guy's open mouth onto the rim of a ceramic tub and hit him in the back of the head. Teeth and blood went everywhere.

Violent actors against you have no problem stomping your head into the ground long after you are unconscious. 'Curbing' or 'curb stomping' is a thing, and there are people who have no reluctance in using such a technique against people like you. I'm reminded of the video that saw a guy in the middle of a busy sidewalk repeatedly stabbing a woman 40-50 times.

And those are the easy examples. Your attacker will likely have far more creative ways to make sure you're the victim and he's the victor.

Whatever you have decided is unlikely in violent interactions will probably end up coming back to haunt you. Your preconceived notions about what 'never' happens in violence will signal your demise.

How to Prepare for Violence

I write all of this to send this simple message: Violence is dynamic, and you are probably not prepared for it.

You have to be imaginative enough to consider every possible contingency (and you still won't get them all). If you haven't visualized the worst kind of violence imaginable (and found examples of violence that you haven't imagined), then you are under-prepared.

If you find yourself surprised when a guy eats your punch to the face and muay-thai kick to the knees, you are under-prepared.

If you haven't trained beyond, "Stab him in the eyes," then you are under-prepared.

Whatever you've planned to do in a self-defense situation is probably going to fail.

The body cannot go where the mind has not been. To be a student of self-defense is to be a student of violence. Read some books. Study (don't just watch) some video. Let your imagination run wild. What is the worst you can imagine? Now imagine worse than that. Develop a series of defensive principles for those 'just in case' moments when everything just goes to Hell.

Do more to prepare for the reality of violence. Your preparation will be the only thing to save your life when the bullets or fists start flying.

Stay safe.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Five Steps to Staying Safe at the New Year's Ball Drop

It's the end of another year, and masses of people will be gathering in large crowds all across the nation to ring in the new year.

Few events match up to the thrill of the countdown, the energy of the crowd, and the expectation that accompanies ringing in a new year. The champagne toast and the kiss of a loved one are unparalleled joys of that midnight hour on New Year's Eve.

As I sit here on December 31st writing this post, I reflect on events from the past year or two and recall the fact that there are those people out there whose life purpose it is to make the rest of us suffer at their hands.

Be it the lone-wolf ISIS terrorist or the radical ideologue with delusions of grandeur, you can be fairly confident that someone somewhere is thinking about the body count that can be amassed during our late-night celebrations.

Thus it is that I bring to you these five steps to keeping yourself safe on New Year's Eve while still enjoying the festivities that attend the evening.

Step One - Know Your Surroundings

This is a simple practice of situational awareness. Wherever you choose to celebrate - be it the biggest ball drop in the nation in Times Square or the Possum Drop in Podunk, USA - make sure you know your surroundings. Are there tall buildings from which an assailant can initiate a Las Vegas-style attack from above? Are there unprotected intersections through which vehicles could drive to plow into the crowd?

Situating yourself in such a way that you can minimize the potential of being in the middle of an attack can give you the edge you need to let the thought of safety fall into the background as you enjoy the frivolity of the event.

Step Two - Observe the People Around You

Paying attention to people in your immediate area can provide much-needed intel on the possible motives of those individuals who are attending the event. New Year's Eve events aren't something people do alone.

That guy in the long coat who has shifty eyes and is holding an unseen object under his coat while just moving through the crowd by himself should be a cue to you to make space between you and him. Given that the weather will be cold, bulges in the clothing are going to be hard to detect, so it's behavior that you must observe.

Gavin DeBecker wrote about that feeling you get about others in his book, The Gift of Fear. Act on those feelings if you have them.

Further, people don't generally attend New Year's Eve events carrying large bags or backpacks. Recalling that the Boston Marathon bombers carried backpacks laden with pressure cooker bombs, it makes sense to be wary of anyone carrying a large bag of any sort.

Step Three - Keep to the Periphery

Being in the middle of a crowd slows your exodus should the need to run for cover arise. Being near the edges of a crowd makes you less of a likely target, since attackers naturally want to go for the bulk of the crowd in their attempts to create the largest casualty count possible. Your being at the edges of a crowd means you are out of the target zone while simultaneously giving yourself the best and quickest opportunity to get out of harm's way.

If you can be near a safe location - a store, coffee shop, or restaurant - into which you can run quickly, make that a part of your plan. Bombs, bullets, and bumpers will have a much harder time finding you inside a building than outside on the street.

Step Four - Know Your Baseline for Noise

One of the exacerbating factors in the Las Vegas mass casualty event was that the concertgoers didn't recognize the shooting as an attack. Many people reported that the noise sounded like fireworks or some form of concert pyrotechnics. Too many realized far too late (and with deadly consequences) that they were under fire.

Know beforehand if the event will have pyrotechnics of any sort. Fireworks are not uncommon on New Year's Eve, but they are not always a part of every celebration. You should know for your own event what will be happening. If you hear a series of popping noises at 11:40 PM, you know that it's worth paying attention to.

Further, there is a distinct difference between screams of excitement or joy and screams of terror. If you hear screaming, particularly at a time at which such a ruckus doesn't make sense, move to your exit or place of cover. Delays in doing so could have unfortunate consequences.

Step Five - Have a Plan, Even If You Won't Need It

Plan your night with meticulous detail. When will you arrive? With whom will you be attending? Where will you establish yourself during the event? Where will you go if there is shooting? What do you do if you see a suspicious person? Where is your safe area if there is a rogue vehicle in the crowd? If you are separated from those with whom you arrived, what is your reunification plan? Where will you meet?

Since the body cannot go where the mind hasn't already been, it's in your best interest to consider the answers to these questions before venturing out into the crowds and the cold. Have a plan so your evening can happen with the least amount of distraction possible. Once the plan is mentally developed, your brain is free to enjoy the celebration without the distraction of 'what to do if...'

From all of us here at DefCon, have a safe and enjoyable New Year's Eve and the most prosperous of New Years.

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


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.


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.