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Using force, particularly deadly force, is not only a legal, but a moral decision.  I’ve taken to annually reprising some articles, and this is among them, because the issues it addresses are not only always with us, but considering the political turmoil in our nation, more likely to confront us than ever.

Like never before, Americans recognize the potential, the necessity, for the use of force.  Black Friday is a good indicator:

FBI’s NICS recorded 187,585 on Black Friday alone, ranking it among the top 10 highest days for NICS checks and a .5% increase from Black Friday 2020, 186,645,’ a representative for NSSF [National Shooting Sports Foundation] said.

What does this mean?  The second best year for gun sales–2020 was the best–in history will be 2021.

I’m a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. I served as a Security Policeman—the USAF equivalent of an actual policeman, not a rivet counter–during the Cold War. I was stationed in the United States at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, a place most people considered hardship duty, but having been raised in that part of the country, it felt like home. In those days, SPs, Pararescue troops and aircrews were just about the only USAF personnel that were ever under arms, or regularly trained with arms and tactics. As unlikely as it was that I might have to use deadly force in my duties—I served during the Cold War–it was something I had to consider.

As young as I was, those thoughts weren’t terribly deep, but I was pretty sure that if necessary, I could and would pull the trigger in defense of self and nation, and that I would hit the target. Like most people who served in the USAF in that era–-I served in the Strategic Air Command–-I was honorably discharged without ever having to shoot in anger, and I very rarely had to use physical force.

Leaving the military, I took a job as a civilian police officer, and had to think harder about the use of force.  Carrying a handgun every day, on and off duty (military police carry only when on duty, drawing their weapons and ammunition from an armory), and wearing a bullet-resistant (no such thing as bullet proof) vest for ten or more hours a day tended to encourage one to think about such things. Finding myself in situations where I came within milliseconds of shooting, and would have been justified, was convincing: I could shoot, and would, if necessary.

Fortunately, in all of those years playing cops and robbers, I never had to pull the trigger.  I came close on many occasions, but I was sufficiently well trained–-much of that training came on my own time and dime–-and capable to avoid shooting. I am very glad for that. I don’t need it on my conscience, and I don’t need to spend years enmeshed in the criminal and civil justice systems.  Ask Kyle Rittenhouse about that.  The SMM Rittenhouse archive is here.  

Unless one is a sociopath, one with no conscience, no caring whatsoever for others, this is a significant issue. It doesn’t matter that one is absolutely legally and morally justified in taking a life, the voice of conscience is never silent.

Should I ever have to shoot someone, I will not spend the rest of my days second-guessing myself. I will not awaken in a cold sweat, what-iffing myself to distraction. I know this because I’ve come so close so many times I can at least understand the feelings and issues. I will forgive myself, and so will the Lord–-that’s important to me–-and I will think about the moral issues and the effects of my actions on others, but it will not destroy me.

Glock 43, bottom with Crimson Trace LL 803 Laserguard Pro light/laser

That’s partially why I carry a handgun.  Unless I preserve my life, I won’t be around to engage in enlightened philosophical debate. I won’t be around to take the moral high ground, but people a lot less concerned about such things will.

Unless we are reasonably sure we can and will use deadly force if necessary, we should not carry handguns for self-defense.

But why learn the art of the gun? Why carry a gun at all? Why, for that matter, study a martial art? Why practice doing harm to your fellow man? Doesn’t that mark one as violent, ill intentioned, perhaps even evil? Doesn’t it speak to inherently non-peaceful desires? Don’t people carry guns to compensate for personal weaknesses? Why carry weapons, or develop the knowledge and skill to use one’s body as a weapon, unless one really intends to use those weapons against others?  That was only one of the failed arguments of the corrupt prosecutors in the Rittenhouse trial.

We do it because we–all of us–should want to survive to die peacefully–of natural causes–in our beds.

As George Orwell said:

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

We are fortunate to live in a society where the necessity of using physical violence is uncommon.  Unless they run in criminal circles, or live in areas effectively ruled by criminals–-Democrat/Socialist/Communist-ruled cities being the most likely places–-the lives of most Americans will never be directly endangered by criminal violence. Most Americans will live a lifetime without having to strike another in self-defense, no broken noses, torn ears, damaged eye sockets, concussions, lacerations, bruises, sprains or broken bones.  However if we understand human nature, if we are willing and able to recognize reality, we must know that such danger is always, in unexpected ways and at unexpected times and places, possible.

We must also understand that sociopaths, or merely common criminals, pick easy marks. Most want to avoid danger and maximize profits. If they’re really bent, if they actually want to commit “hot” burglaries where residents are home, if they aren’t afraid to attack large, strong, alert men, they are particularly dangerous and violent people, people who want to harm others, who like harming others, who are delighted—stimulated–by the fear, pain and misery of others.

No matter how we see the world, there will always be some willing to hurt or kill us for their own reasons, whether as trivial as the change in our pockets, our jewelry, to rape, or just to hurt someone else as in the “knockout game;”  they have always existed and always will. A question everyone should consider is what we are able and willing to do when we meet one or more of them? Failing to consider that question, failing to be prepared to do what is necessary, may foretell our questionable survival.

The police almost certainly won’t be there to protect or save anyone.  They have no such legal duty.   They will eventually come to pick up the pieces, and perhaps, if they have the time and skill, they’ll one day arrest the criminal. Most crimes go unsolved.  If dead, this will not matter to you, and will cause a lifetime of anguish for your survivors.

Because of my military service, my civilian police work, and because of an interest in martial arts and athletics in general, I pursued martial skills. There is, to be sure, great value in practicing any martial art. I am, for example, a fencer: European and Japanese (Kendo and Iaido). While I will be unlikely to ever engage anyone in combat with a sword, the conditioning and skills I learned and maintain are important in any physical confrontation. Timing, speed, anticipation, and an understanding of the use of distance and space are vital in physical combat of any kind. There is also no question those sports have made me much faster than I would have otherwise been.

While I have attained a reasonable level of general unarmed martial skill apart from fencing, I still carry a handgun. I have prepared as well as I am able for physical combat, and my level of situational awareness makes that combat less likely. But I cannot rely on it.

credit: wordcrunch.com

I am yet tall, reasonably fit and strong, and my reflexes have not degraded to any obvious degree, but I am no longer 25, or even 45 years old. I wear glasses, I’ll be taking medication for the rest of my life, I’ve had shoulder injuries and my knees remind me daily their warranty is close to expiration. Any criminal watching me for a few minutes after I get out of bed would likely not consider me a formidable opponent. I get older every year, but the kind of people that would attack me, or anyone, are always in their teens and early 20s.

In the past, I could do 3-5 minutes of hard sparring and recover very quickly. Does 3-5 minutes sound like nothing? If you think that, you have no idea about actual fighting. Even with sparring, where we have rules and agree not to seriously, intentionally damage each other, serious bruises, sprains, the occasional broken finger or toe, concussions, and a few days of pain and peeing blood are common.

What we see on TV and the movies is not fighting but choreography. In the real world, fighting is very dangerous. The younger, stronger, more inherently violent person, the person able to take more damage and recover more quickly, will likely win. Beautiful techniques that work at ¾ speed in the dojo often fail spectacularly in reality.  Of course, as in the “knockout game,” an ambush is potentially over more quickly and even more damaging.

The implications are obvious. For most women, who are always at a physical disadvantage in a fight with most men, and for many men, particularly older men, hand to hand combat is a sucker’s bet. It’s a sure way to be seriously injured, maimed, crippled or killed. Add weight of numbers, and even the biggest, fittest, most capable men are at a disadvantage.  Remember: movie fighting is choreography with a pre-determined outcome.

credit: the palette

In Kendo and European fencing, I often met women, smaller, weaker women, who were capable of beating me. They could win because we were engaged in a formalized sport with specific rules that placed a premium on skill, speed, thinking ahead, and correct technique. Even though the techniques were based on actual combat, and if done with real weapons would produce mortal wounds, it was still a sport, using practice weapons. As I’ve aged, I’ve met more of these women and girls. Even as they beat me on points, I knew without a doubt-–and if they were wise, they knew–-I could, at any moment, render them unconscious or seriously injure them with a single blow. Actual sword combat does not rule out punches or kicks.  When survival is the prize and failure means death, there are no rules. That’s physical reality, not sport.  Movie swordplay is choreography too.

All of these dynamics apply to most men, who are not trained fighters. Even if they have some martial arts training, most are not skilled in actual fighting, fighting where there are no rules, where there are no inhibitions, and where your opponent really wants to hurt and humiliate you, and if you end up crippled, maimed or dead, so what?

I carry a handgun because I, long ago, learned enough about human nature–-an ongoing process–-and understanding human nature, asked and answered a very important question: yes, if necessary, I can and will use force to protect myself and others, deadly force if necessary. I carry a handgun because I cannot defeat, hand to hand, everyone that might wish to harm me, and I’m not foolish enough to try.

This is one of the major flaws in reasoning–-such as it is–-of the disarmament cracktivist. If we are not willing and able to take on a criminal, or group of criminals, empty-handed, we are somehow not playing fair. The Rittenhouse prosecutors actually asserted we all must be willing to take the occasional beating.  That’s insane, has nothing to do with the law, and didn’t work for them either.  If we don’t limit ourselves to hand to hand combat, we don’t hold the moral high ground, are uncivilized and contributing to a barbaric, dangerous society. Our carrying of defensive weapons endangers everyone else. We are even cowardly. After all, a real man should be easily able to take out a few punks, right?

Wrong. Dangerously, foolishly wrong.

The people making those absurd claims often live behind high walls festooned with security sensors, and protected by armed security.  Why should I have to endanger my health and life to salve the warped consciences of people who not only have no real idea of the issues we discuss, but who are incapable of asking the right questions and formulating rational, reality-based answers?  As Harry Callahan said in Magnum Force:

A man’s got to know his limitations.

Why should I please people who could not care less about me, and who likely hate me because I don’t agree with them?  I should care about the feelings of people who would neither mark nor grieve my untimely death?  I must make myself easy prey for criminals to make society “safe?” Knowing my age-imposed physical limitations, I have an obligation to make myself an even more inviting target to sociopaths? Disarming myself is somehow moral?

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I live in the real world, and in that world, women are at a physical disadvantage to men. Groups overwhelm individuals. Having the element of surprise–-attacking first and with a purpose–-matters. Young men beat older men, and the vicious and violent prevail over the gentle and meek. I am neither meek nor unprepared, and I have no obligation to submit myself to the desires of criminals. No one does, nor does the law or morality require, admire or reward it.

Those demanding that the law abiding make themselves easy prey demonstrate blatant immorality, for they draw moral equivalence between the law abiding and honorable who would harm no one, and predators that delight in harming the innocent.  Who is the greater benefit to society?

I’m not going to try to take anyone on hand-to-hand. Real fighting is deadly dangerous, and anyone imagining it is not is caught up in the world of movies. In our world, single blows leave people mentally and physically handicapped or dead. In the real world, when attacked by a stranger, one must always understand they are fighting for their life, and act accordingly.

It is always best to avoid any confrontation, but if attacked, if I can determine that I have the physical ability to stop or ward off that attack without resorting to deadly force, I’ll surely do it. But should it ever be necessary for me to draw my handgun, I’ll do my best not to have to fire. If I do have to fire, and that decision may be made in milliseconds, I’m prepared to deal with the aftermath, an aftermath that includes me, and those I love, alive and unhurt.

Knowing how to avoid violence, but when that’s not possible, when to draw, when to shoot, and what to do thereafter are matters of training, reflection, practice, and for another time. Asking and answering the right questions is always a moral choice.