If you’ve already read the first six articles in this series you have at least a basic background in the philosophical, theological and political implications of weapon ownership and use. This article–and the next two–concern practical, moral and legal issues, as well as exploring some of the primary ways that carrying a concealed weapon must necessarily change one’s life. Keep in mind that I am not an attorney, and that you are responsible for becoming familiar with the law where you live and wherever you travel. An article I wrote–more in a serious vein–on the same topic may also be worth your time.
NOTE: A quick aside on the issue of carrying firearms while traveling. Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots was traveling through New York City on December 15, 2011. His handgun was unloaded and cased, as federal law requires for airline travel. When he asked for a firearms declaration from an airline ticket agent so he could follow federal law to the letter, the NYC police arrested and jailed him for a felony violation of NYC’s firearm laws. Meckler’s case was eventually bargained down to an administrative violation, but NYC lawlessly refused to return his handgun. Read Meckler’s entire statement and understand that despite the Second Amendment, despite the Heller and McDonald decisions affirming it, some cities and states ignore the Constitution and will prosecute and persecute gun owners. Meckler is not the only law-abiding citizen caught up in this lawless web. Never make the mistake of thinking the police will behave reasonably or kindly toward gun owners. Most may, but some will not.
AWARENESS: Walk down any street and take the time to assess the situational awareness of those you meet. What’s “situational awareness?” It’s a very familiar term to police officers, soldiers, and others who engage in risky, dangerous endeavors. Think of it as a heightened alertness, combined with the ability to predict what might happen in any situation. Most people walk around in a fog, almost completely unaware of what is happening outside of their “personal space,” that bubble extending to arm’s length or less. It is this lack of situational awareness that helps killers fire many shots into crowds or classrooms before anyone is aware of what is happening. In the aftermath of such attacks, people often say: “I didn’t see it coming,” or “it all happened so fast.” That’s because few people consciously develop situational awareness.
Those who have developed situational awareness know about what I speak. Every day they marvel at their lack of consciousness of the general public. A stunning example occurred in 2013 on a commuter train in San Francisco. On that day, a man shot and killed a university student, chosing him at random. But that’s not what’s stunning:
The man drew the gun several times on the crowded San Francisco commuter train, with surveillance video showing him pointing it across the aisle without anyone noticing and then putting it back against his side, according to authorities.
The other passengers were so absorbed in their phones and tablets they didn’t notice the gunman until he randomly shot and killed a university student, authorities said.
Before that moment, footage showed the man pull out the .45-caliber pistol and once wipe his nose with the hand holding the weapon…
See that man approaching you on the sidewalk? Notice that if he looks at you at all, it will only be, at best, a quick glance at your face. His mouth may turn up at the corners in a semi-smile, or it may not. Notice that no one looks up; virtually no one looks higher than the level of people’s faces. The next time you walk down a familiar downtown block in your community, concentrate on looking up. You’ll be amazed at the details you’ve missed.
In the same vein, virtually no one looks very far ahead of them, or behind them. Consider how vulnerable this lack of situational awareness makes people to two legged predators. This is one of the primary reasons they can be successful, for in truth, the Hollywood stereotype of the criminal mastermind is almost entirely fantasy. Most criminals are not bright, but many do possess a kind of animal cunning. In true survival of the fittest style criminals tend to prey on those that appear to be weak and/or distracted, hence, vulnerable. The ubiquity of smart phones has been a boon for criminals.
Consider too the calculation of predators. They focus on the weak and distracted, and by this, I mean physical weakness. Size, strength and gender matter. Criminals are far more likely to target a small, distracted woman than a large, fit man. That’s why it is particularly important for women to read and carefully consider this series of articles. Women, because they are generally smaller, weaker and far less aggressive than men, are uniquely vulnerable to criminals. Do not, for a moment, doubt that criminals know this. They are anxious to exploit it. The possibility of rape–-apart from the joys of assault, robbery, and other crimes common to both genders–-is a sought-after bonus to many criminals. Given the opportunity during the commission of a burglary, carjacking, or other crime, some criminals absolutely delight in rape.
THE LATE COL. JEFF COOPER, firearms guru and founder of the Gunsite training facility, developed a color code system that is helpful in understanding this issue.
Code White: This is the level of situational awareness of most people, which is to say none at all. In this state, you are essentially unaware of what is happening outside your personal space. You cannot anticipate and identify potential danger and have virtually no chance of dealing with it effectively if it appears. Predators see you as a walking piece of meat wearing an enormous, flashing “eat me” sign. Think about how many smart phone zombies you see every day, and you understand the delight–and easy pickings–of criminals.
Code Yellow: This is the level anyone who does not want to be prey should adopt. It is the level you must adopt if you carry a concealed weapon. In this state, you have an enhanced level of awareness. While remaining relaxed, you are constantly on the lookout for potential danger. You have expanded your personal space far beyond arm’s length and are alert and prepared to avoid or confront danger. This level of awareness is not stressful and can be maintained day in and day out without danger of physical or psychological damage.
Code Orange: In this state, you have recognized an imminent potential threat. Say a man walking toward you suddenly thrusts his hand into his coat in the manner of someone reaching for a handgun in a shoulder holster. You immediately escalate from yellow to orange–-until he pulls out a smart phone–-allowing you to return to yellow. Keep in mind an escalation from yellow to orange will probably not be noticeable by anyone not used to maintaining situational awareness. This state may or may not result in an adrenaline dump, but remaining in this state for long periods of time may be physically or psychologically harmful.
Code Red: In this state you have recognized a definite, imminent threat, but still have time to choose options. You approach your car in a parking garage to find several gang bangers lounging on the trunk lid. As they see you approach, they nudge each other, stand up, spread out, and one pulls a knife from his pocket while you see the others reaching into their pockets. They are grinning in anticipation. They think they’ve seen an easy mark approaching. You feel the heat of an adrenaline dump and have to make a decision: Flight or fight? Can you safely change direction and walk away without provoking a pursuit, or is a confrontation unavoidable? If it’s unavoidable, what must you do to gain and retain a tactical advantage? How can you confuse, even surprise, them? Remaining in code red for more than a short time is impossible for most people and will almost certainly be physically and/or psychologically harmful.
Code Black: You are actually fighting and must assume, in any confrontation outside the sparring practice of a martial arts school, that you are fighting for your life, particularly if you are attacked by a stranger on the street (more on this shortly). Adrenaline is pumping and you may experience Tachypsychia (seconds seem like hours) and a narrowing of your field of vision commonly known as “tunneling.” Your hearing may become very dim or temporarily disappear. Fine muscle control is diminished, even lost. This is a debilitating physical and psychological state and those who experience it are often physically and emotionally exhausted after a confrontation that lasts only seconds. If you have not adopted the habit of maintaining situational awareness, you will almost certainly be at a serious tactical disadvantage and may be hurt or killed.
With only fiction and movies as a guide, most people do not understand that it is entirely possible–indeed, it may be absolutely necessary–to be capable of two modes of behavior which, to the uninformed, seem contradictory. Police officers, Special Forces soldiers, martial artists and others understand what I mean. It is entirely possible to live a quiet, unassuming life, a life that, observed by others, would appear to be not only non-violent, but incapable of violence. Yet, when confronted by a deadly threat, such people are instantly capable of acting with overwhelming speed, violence of action and focus, which results in the prompt elimination of the threat.
In all of my police years, my wife would often say that she could not imagine me doing violence, yet when required, I employed it effectively and without reservation. Many of those who knew me would often comment that I didn’t look or act like a police officer. This was because not only was I far from a stereotypical police officer, I existed in code yellow–as I do to this day–and I was able to recognize potentially dangerous situations and avoid or defuse them, thus avoiding the necessity of violence. However, I constantly trained, mentally and physically, to deliver it if necessary. No rational person wants to harm or kill others, yet no rational person should be without the ability should it become necessary. As Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis said:
Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.
Disclaimer: Mattis was speaking of a combat environment–mostly. What he suggests is merely an extension of always asking “what if?”
It must be understood that most people are utterly unprepared to meet violence. While most Americans believe, at least in the abstract, that evil exists, they don’t tend to think of it in concrete, daily terms. Most people think of themselves as kind, considerate, polite people, people who obey the law and consider the feelings of others. This is admirable, but it is hard, perhaps almost impossible, for such people to realize that they live near people who are not at all like them, people who, if not truly sociopathic–-people with absolutely no feelings for others; essentially those without a conscience–-care very little for others and have no problem with hurting or killing them for fun, to get what they want, or both. The realization that we might live next to such people, or walk or drive past them at any time of any day is sobering, perhaps even frightening, but may lead to taking the necessary steps to be prepared. That is what this series of articles is all about.
THE OBLIGATIONS OF CONCEALED CARRY: Those who choose to carry a concealed weapon are, whether they realize it or not, taking on obligations that others simply do not have, and they will be held responsible, legally and morally, for upholding those obligations. Among them are:
(1) Situational Awareness: You are now obligated to live in code yellow. You can no longer afford to be oblivious to your surroundings. You must, to at least some degree, think like a criminal and ask yourself how they would behave and what they would do if they were intending to break into your home, steal your car, or assault you. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ve missed and at how much more vibrant and interesting the world is now that you’re actually much more aware of it in your daily life. You’ll also be entitled to a degree of pride in your ability to better protect yourself and those you love.
You must think “what if?” What if you were attacked as you were pulling your car into your driveway? From which direction would an attack likely come? Would it be a good idea to unbuckle your seatbelt a short distance from home? Would it be a good idea to vary your route to and from home in an unpredictable manner? Are you sufficiently aware of your neighborhood to be able to see anything out of the ordinary? What should you do when approaching your parked car? What should you look for? What if someone is following you? How do you use reflective surfaces–like store windows–to be more aware of your surroundings?
Asking “what if?” is not paranoia, but a means of being more aware of one’s surroundings, and of providing buffers of time and distance–-two of the most important factors in any confrontation–-in case of danger. Such awareness may allow you to entirely avoid potentially dangerous situations, and may also alert predators who, seeing you are not–-like most people–-oblivious to the danger they represent, will choose less alert and potentially less dangerous prey. Maintaining situational awareness is a small price to pay for avoiding dangerous, potentially deadly, encounters.
(2) Safeguarding Your Weapon: You are solely responsible for safeguarding your weapon. This includes keeping it concealed and ensuring that no one is able to take it from you. It also includes keeping it from those who should not have it, such as children. To fulfill this obligation, you’ll have to consider many things, including how you’ll carry your weapon, how to store it when you’re not carrying it, your wardrobe and how you’ll change your habits–-and adopt new habits–-to ensure that you don’t accidentally expose your weapon or accidentally leave it behind in a public restroom. You’ll have to alter your wardrobe and behaviors to accommodate the weapon, not the other way around. The very successful premise behind concealed carry, and its great value, is that since criminals cannot know who is carrying a concealed weapon, they must assume that anyone could be and act accordingly.
You must develop consistent daily routines–-do things the same way all of the time–-to ensure that you don’t forget to do what you must. If you carry your weapon in your purse, for example, you can never allow that purse to be out of your immediate grasp, and certainly never out of your sight. At a restaurant, it should be on your lap, the strap wrapped under your leg, not on the floor near your chair. If this doesn’t work for you, you must find another means of carrying your weapon. In later editions of this series, I’ll go into the variety of available carry options.
NOTE: An issue in the freedom/citizen control debate rapidly gaining prominence is that of open carry–citizens carrying handguns, even long guns, openly. I’ll only note here that open carry imposes problems and responsibilities not present when one is carrying concealed. Uniformed police officers–-their weapons always exposed–-undergo training on weapon retention, and have to adapt their body movements to always shield and protect their handguns. They also commonly carry security holsters, which make it difficult to snatch their guns. I still move my right arm relatively little when walking or moving, so used was I to keeping my elbow in contact with my handgun, even though I have not been in uniform for about 20 years years. Even then, I carried a specially designed retention holster that made snatching the gun not impossible, but more difficult. Citizens don’t.
(3) Maintenance Training: Shooting quickly and accurately is a matter of muscle memory and practice. It is a perishable skill. You must be willing to commit to a minimum amount of practice. How much? That depends on you, but generally speaking, once a month in live–-on the range–-fire, and once a week in dry fire–-in the home–-practice. The point is that your weapon should feel as familiar to you as your watch. Its mechanisms and use should be as easy and familiar as walking and should require no more conscious effort.
Laser sights provide a unique benefit in dry fire training. They provide visual feedback of one’s trigger control, making common mistakes easy to detect and hopefully, correct.
New shooters should stick with a single weapon rather than carrying a variety of weapons. There is a venerable saying to the effect that the most dangerous man is the one with only a single gun. The point is that he probably practices with it enough to be truly proficient. If the point is being so familiar with your weapon that you need no conscious thought to employ it efficiently and quickly, that kind of familiarity will be hard to come by if you carry multiple weapons. Firearms aren’t fashion accessories, particularly when carried concealed.
(4) Avoidance of Danger: Firearms aren’t license to become a righteous avenger. In fact, if you’re carrying a firearm, you have a more compelling duty to avoid trouble. Firearms are to be used only as a last resort to protect your life, or the lives of others and to prevent imminent serious bodily injury or death. You must avoid places where danger is more likely such as bars and certain neighborhoods or areas where criminals are known to be. You must never allow yourself to become intoxicated or even impaired. You must ignore insults, walk across a street to avoid people who might be trouble, even walk or drive blocks out of your way. If you are in code yellow, if you have enhanced your situational awareness, such things will be second nature because you’ll constantly be asking “what if?” You’ll be far more likely to recognize potential danger and avoid it. Predators will notice your awareness and will be far more likely to leave you alone.
On the other hand, if they’re too stupid to notice, or so bold or drug-addled that they don’t care, you’ll also be more prepared to avoid them or to gain a tactical advantage if it’s not possible to avoid a confrontation. In fact, you’ll have no doubt of their intentions. This will help you avoid ambiguous situations where you might be a few seconds too slow in reacting to save your life. Remember that if you do have to shoot someone, prosecutors will be asking themselves if you were looking for trouble because you were armed. Be sure there is not only no evidence to support that theory, but plenty of evidence to the contrary. Be prepared to explain how early you detected danger, and the concrete steps you honestly took to avoid it.
Most police officers will spend an entire career without ever having to shoot anyone, and they’re exposed to more danger in a month than most citizens will experience in a lifetime. Unlike you, they don’t have a choice; they have to knowingly enter dangerous situations. For the most part, you don’t. Prosecutors know this; so must you.
Next Tuesday: Legal Issues. I hope to see you there.