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On being unarmed…

June 18, 2010

So here’s that post I’ve had rattling around in my head for two weeks or so.

 On the cruise, and many other places, we have top surrender our tools of defense.  As a concealed handgun licensee (thinking about starting instructing, actually) I’m used to have certain tools at my disposal for a worst-case scenario.  Please note, I’m using the word tools – for a reason.  I’ll get to it in a moment.

 On our recent trip, I had to leave virtually any conventional implement of defense at home.  The cruise line even prohibits folding pocket knives, regardless of size (including the Kershaw Chive with a blade under 2” that permanently lives attached to my pocket) leaving us theoretically defenseless in a safe, weapons-free environment.  I saw theoretically because in practice, there is no such thing as a truly weapon-free environment.

 Think about it for a moment.  Let me suggest a few scenarios.  Let us say you are in an airport and have gone through security already.  The TSA likes to call this a ‘sterile’ area, so I’ll use that term as well.  Someone picks up a chair and starts beating someone else with it.  You’re in a so-called weapon-free zone, but that person could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon.  Hmm.

 Here’s another good one.  In Ohio, business owners have the option to post a sign which prohibits the carrying of a firearm in their business.  In Ohio, we have a slang term for such places, Criminal Protection Zones, or CPZ’s.  Those signs don’t work so well. (All of those are posted, and that search took less than 5 minutes)

 So, in practice, there is no such thing as a weapons-free zone.  How do we handle this?  As a law-abiding citizen, if I am inconvenienced by being asked (or forced) to disarm, I might be without my favorite tool for a specific job, but I am far from unarmed.  I don’t mean I’m carrying a backup gun, or a knife, or mace, or a baton, or some other mall ninja worthy persuit.  I mean I’m not unarmed, because I AM the weapon, the gun is the tool.

 Self defense is a mentality.  A carpenter has the skill to frame a house, even if you take away his favorite hammer.  A mechanic can still fix your car even his tools break (that was not fun, incidentally.)  In the same vein, self defense is not about carrying a sidearm.  It’s about staying safe, and keeping those around you safe.  That’s situational awareness.  It’s the determination to do whatever is necessary to stay safe.  Identifying potential threats before they act gives you time to prepare and remove advantages that a potential bad guy may have.

 I break situational awareness into three categories:  myself, the people around me and our surrounding environment.  If I have a person of significance with me (Vesta or some other family member, for example) I count them with the ‘myself’ portion.

 For myself, I take stock in my condition and what I have on my person.  How is my knee?  Is it up to running if necessary?  What am I carrying?  Do I have at least one hand free to intercept/react?  If I am with Vesta, is she carrying a weapon?  This should be the easiest category to control and be aware of.  Most of the time if I’m out and about, I’m carrying either my Walther P99 or my KelTec PF-9.  The Smith & Wesson MP9 in my header image is actually Vesta’s, which is what she carries.  (I was too lazy to run downstairs to the door safe to take the picture, and the MP9 was right upstairs with me at the time…)  If I’m at a CPZ, do I have my pocketknife?  Or my walking cane?  What do I have on my person that could be weaponized or assist with getting out of dodge?

 When looking at the people around me, this is something that working as a bouncer and uniformed security taught me – to watch people to predict what they’re going to do.  Look at the body language.  Look at the eyes.  If someone looks agitated, chances are that they are agitated, and may act aggressively.  This is what some of my friends who are peace officers call ‘cop-dar.’  Some say it’s a trained reaction, other say it’s instinctual.  Either way, I say that if someone sets off your radar, go with your gut reaction and keep an inconspicuous eye on them.  Our subliminal is far more observant than we are, and has evolved to evade predators.  We should listen to it.

 Lastly, the most complex thing you can observe is your environment.  I say that this is the most complex because it is constantly changing.  In everyday situations, can you say offhand how many exits the building you’re in has, and how to get to the closest one?  What available tools are at hand to break the window separating you from safety?  What cover or concealment is available for you to use until you can evade or act?  What is around you that can be made into an improvised weapon? Now think about those same things in the context of a dynamic critical incident, where you may not have time to find what’s around you.  If you already have the knowledge prior to the incident starting, you can react that much faster, and the faster your react, the greater your chances of survival.

 One little saying that I use to remind myself of this is ‘head on a swivel’ – constantly looking around.  I also use this when riding my motorcycle, for many of the same reasons.

 So what’s the real-world application of all this theory?  Back to my original thought-starter, our recent cruise.  I was without my tools, but at no point was I unarmed or unsafe.  A little forethought and I was aware of the exit points from the interior of the ship to where the lifeboats were, and where our muster station was and how to get there.  I did my best to ensure my safety, and those around me.

 I’m not paranoid, I’m prepared.  I don’t stockpile tons of food and antibiotics in my basement, but I keep a modest pantry and freezer.  Knowing what’s around me is in the same vein.

 You can take my tools, but I’m still armed, for I am the weapon.

*I didn’t mean for this post to be this long, but it’s a complicated subject, and I wanted to present enough to convey my message.  It’s still a little long to read, but if I cut it any more, it would speak in incomplete thoughts, which I hate.

**Damn, it’s still over a thousand words.  Oh well.

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