Five Things More Important Than Just “Having a Gun”


There’s nothing more dangerous than a false sense of security.

Unfortunately, many people who carry a gun for self or home-defense are at risk of the consequences of embracing a false sense of security. I think it’s some underlying optimism inherent to human nature that allows us to paint a vague and reassuring picture in our minds. “Hey, if I have a gun available, I can deal with trouble.”

Nothing could be further from the truth!

You can’t guarantee trouble avoidance in your life. You can’t be “alert enough” to chalk up a 100% effective record of spotting and avoiding a criminal encounter. You can’t rely on strategies like avoiding “bad” areas at certain times. You can’t assume choosing the most “tactical” seat in a restaurant or movie theater will ensure your survival in the event of a violent attack. And you certainly can’t assume you can just “get your gun” to address potential harm.

So you have a gun with you, somewhere. Will it help you defend against a sudden attack?
So you have a gun with you, somewhere. Will it help you defend against a sudden attack?

There’s one simple reason you can’t control your way to perfect trouble avoidance; You don’t get to decide where, when, or how a criminal event occurs.

That’s up to the other guy. All you can do is to be alert, prepare, and aim to reduce your overall risk level.

Making Sure Your Brain Knows, “Yes, It Can Happen…”

I saw a disturbing video the other day. I’ll spare you the gory details, but the short version is that a crazed man attacked an ex-girlfriend with a knife. The crime took place right on the street with lots of bystanders in the immediate vicinity. After knocking her to the ground, the man proceeded to slowly and methodically stab the woman with his knife while nearby bystanders stood around wondering what the heck was going on. After a minute or so, while this man was continuing to attack the now defenseless woman, a couple of guys approached and started to try to push the crazed attacker off the girl. “Push” was the key word. I’m not exaggerating when I say they made embarrassingly lame and half-hearted “pokes” with their feet against this guys body. You’d think it was a child trying to “push away” an adult who was tickling them. It was that pathetic and completely ineffective—he didn’t even slow down his attack.

While watching this, I couldn’t understand how someone just didn’t punt this guy in the face with a running kick. He was kneeling with his head facing the girl on the ground and oblivious to bystanders, so the foot-to-face dating game would have been not only low risk but resoundingly effective. Contemplating this later, it occurred to me that most of us just aren’t programmed to accept that extreme violence can and does happen around us. The lack of understanding that there are people out there like this knife attacker probably led to seconds and minutes of people trying to process what was going on. It was outside of their understanding of reality, so they took precious time to recognize extreme danger and even more time to act on it, even half-heartedly.

You see this phenomenon with nearly every public violence event. Most people stand around looking uncertain and confused. A much smaller group of individuals takes more immediate action, whether that’s running away to safety or sometimes leaping into defensive action. Those are the people who have pre-processed in their mind, “Yes, it CAN happen.” So, they’ve eliminated the time-consuming “stand around and wonder” stage of their response. Understanding, and even embracing (not agreeing with, but recognizing) reality can save precious seconds should you find yourself caught in one of those “I can’t believe this is happening” situations.

If you're looking at your cell phone, you're not taking in the world around you.
If you’re looking at your cell phone, you’re not taking in the world around you.

Burn Your Cell Phone in Effigy

OK, so maybe setting your new iPhone 11 on fire isn’t such a great idea, although it will keep you safer.

If you’re in a public area, there’s nothing more important than being aware of your surroundings at all times. Multi-tasking fantasies aside, the human brain is only good at doing one thing at a time. If you’re reading or messing with your cell phone, you’re not aware of what’s going on around you. It’s that simple. Just a quick new text check takes between five and ten seconds to retrieve a phone, unlock it, open the app, and read. Responding increases that time by orders of magnitude.

Have you ever thought about what can happen in just five seconds?

  • Usain Bolt can run over 50 yards. Even your average street thug can cover a heck of a lot of distance.
  • If you’re standing in line at a Stop-N-Rob or fast-food joint, someone can enter the building, draw a gun, and start yelling “Give me the money!”
  • A mass murder attacker can injure or kill several people.
  • A car cruising down the street at 45 mph can cover 330 feet.

You get the idea. Your entire immediate environment can change—radically—in seconds. I’d argue that the number one thing you can do to increase your overall safety is to put away the phone when in public.

Get in Shape — At Least a Little

While exceedingly rare, mass casualty attacks are front-of-mind these days. In the movies, the hero citizen would step in with their lawful concealed carry firearm, take on the perpetrators, and save the day. In reality, your best strategy might be to run like crazy to get clear of danger. If said attacker is more than a dozen or so paces from you, the odds of a successful armed counterattack are probably not nearly as good as those of the “get out of Dodge” alternative.

Can you run 100 yards at full tilt? While wearing your everyday street clothes and shoes? If there’s scuffling involved for whatever reason, can you fight for your life for 30 seconds or a minute? That leads us to the next point…

It's not a bad idea to get a little training on how to use a common pocket knife defensively.
It’s not a bad idea to get a little training on how to use a common pocket knife defensively.

Learning Some Good Old-Fashioned Fisticuffs Tactics

It might be comforting to think your attack might something like this: You notice a guy about 20 yards away. He draws a gun and threatens you. He dutifully stands still while you draw your gun. Maybe you have to fire to stop the threat; maybe you don’t. You emerge victorious and the responding police thank you for your service. You’re interviewed on the news and win the lottery.

In reality, the odds are that you won’t have this luxury. You may figure out you’re in the process of becoming a victim when someone slugs you in the back of the head while you’re pumping gas. Or maybe the guy behind you in the Burger Delight line sticks a gun into the back of your neck and announces his new career as an armed robber. Or your car door is yanked open while you’re checking social media while waiting at a red light. You get the idea. Real-life self-defense encounters are fast, raw, and generally ugly.

With the odds of a personal attack being up close and physical, it’ll behoove you to learn some basic hand-to-hand self-defense skills. You may not be able to use a gun at all until you fight off an attack to create enough distance to draw. You may be in a non-permissive carry environment at the time. In fact, there are a million possible circumstances where you might need to meet a threat with hand-to-hand resistance, at least temporarily.

At most ranges, it's easy to rig up simple shoot / no-shoot or transitional target drills.
At most ranges, it’s easy to rig up simple shoot / no-shoot or transitional target drills.

Knowing How to Use It

Last, by design, is the importance of defensive handgun skills. Leisurely knocking the bullseye out of targets at 10 or 15 yards is not an example of defensive handgun proficiency. As you head to the range, consider practicing the harder or more boring skills like…

  • Drawing from concealment until it’s second nature: smooth, and fast.
  • Putting shots on target from legitimate concealment in less than two seconds.
  • Shooting comfortably strong hand only.
  • Being able to shoot rapidly using your strong hand only. Try putting five shots on a paper plate-sized target shooting one-handed.
  • Shooting with your weak-side or support hand only.

If your range doesn’t allow practicing draws, that’s OK. You can do that equally well at home with a carefully unloaded gun.

While it's not as satisfying for small groups, be sure to spend lots of time shooting one-handed too.
While it’s not as satisfying for small groups, be sure to spend lots of time shooting one-handed too.

In summary, the best way to banish a false sense of security is to embrace reality. Watch some video of actual criminal attacks, not for the intrigue, but to learn how quickly things can happen and how chaotic and ugly a defensive action really is. Invest in a defensive training class from a reputable and experienced instructor. If you leave that class scared about how much you don’t know, consider that a good thing, and get busy learning!

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