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.

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.