Author of Be Ready for Anything and Build a Better Pantry on a Budget online course
“I’ll just pull out my Glock/HK/Ruger and deal with those punks. Once they see their buddies drop, they’ll back off soon enough.”
“We could end this by just killing anyone who sets foot on our block.”
“All good Americans need to do is start mowing down protesters with their cars if the roads get blocked.”
Chances are, if you ever read the comments or visit any type of social media outlet online, you’ve read some comments pretty similar to the ones above. After all, this is America, land of the free, home of the brave. It’s up to all good patriots to defend our property and our country from scumbags with deadly force.
But not so fast.
Things are never as cut and dried as people with 3-second solutions like to make it seem in the comments.
You can’t escalate directly to lethal force in every situation.
Let’s take a look at the situation Terry Trahan wrote about the other day, where the lady was sitting in a restaurant having dinner when she got surrounded by an unruly mob who insisted she raise her fist in the air in support of a group of activists. The comments section is filled with people who are apparently ready to open fire on a city street into a crowd of people.
Is that really the appropriate response? While I absolutely agree that the behavior of that mob is horrible and that these things shouldn’t happen, is this a moment that requires the use of uncensored deadly force?
Have any of these folks stopped to think about what happens after they open fire?
Because I can tell you what is very likely to occur if you unload a magazine in a public space in the middle of downtown Washington DC. At best, you will be arrested and charged with brandishing a weapon or illegal discharge of a weapon. At worst, one of your bullets will go through its intended target and hit an innocent bystander – maybe a child – maybe even your own child who is making his way back from the bathroom. Or you’ll kill a member of the angry mob and someone will take the gun away and turn it on you and you’ll be dead. Or you’ll valiantly take down three attackers and find yourself awaiting trial for homicide, among other charges.
And you know what else? Every idiotic off-hand comment you ever made online about blowing people away will come back to haunt you in court. If you think you’re anonymous online, I assure you that you are not. Even when you use a VPN, your actual IP can be traced given enough resources and time.
Choosing how you escalate your response
We’ve all heard the saying, “When your only tool is a hammer, you treat everything like it’s a nail.” The same is true when your only tool is deadly force.
Obviously there are life and death situations in which deadly force is the only possible response if you want to live. When someone bursts into your home waving a gun screaming that they’re going to kill you, when someone in a mask is trying to drag you into a van with dark-tinted windows, when someone is clearly intent on beating the crap out of you until you’re dead – all of these things are situations in which your use of a lethal response is entirely justified.
But… a lot of situations require more finesse unless you want to risk a) spending the rest of your life in prison and praying you don’t drop the soap or b) vengeance from your adversary’s friends or family or c) criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits forever and ever until you die.
You need to have an understanding of the appropriate escalation of force.
A book I read last year has a place on everyone’s shelf during these times in which a conflict can arise for just about anyone, just about anywhere. That book is Scaling Force: Dynamic Decision Making Under Threat of Violence and it’s by Rory Miller. If you’ve been around here for a while, you may have seen my review of another of Miller’s books, and you may have seen Toby Cowern and Terry Trahan reference him as well. That’s because, in my opinion, nobody knows more about the science of violence than Miller. As well, he spent years working in law enforcement settings, so he knows a lot about what happens after the violence takes place.
To make a long story short, your goal should always be to use the lowest amount of force possible to get yourself safely out of the situation. Your ability to do this depends on understanding the different strategies you can employee and your skill at reading your opponent.
Identify what the threat actually is.
If you are in a situation in which you may have to defend yourself, it’s important that you understand what the threat really is.
- Are you just being yelled at or mocked?
- Are people just trying to intimidate or embarrass you?
- Are they trying to have an actual discussion or just shout over you?
- Are you outnumbered?
- Are they threatening to physically attack you?
- Are they capable of physically attacking you?
- Are they armed with firearms, items that could be used as bludgeons, or knives?
While all of these things may make you angry, if you are not in physical danger, you have to temper your response accordingly.
Part of the book is a detailed description of pre-assault indicators that can help you identify a potentially violent encounter before it happens. This goes a long way toward reducing the likelihood of you being injured, killed, or imprisoned due to your response.
Here are some key steps to take during a potentially violent encounter.
In Miller’s book – which I strongly recommend – he suggests a pattern that begins with simply leaving the situation, to verbal de-escalation when you are not in imminent danger, with other steps all the way up to and including lethal force. He discusses in detail how to rapidly assess your situation to see where you should start. You can find these steps on the internet but they’re not detailed. You should truly read the book to get a deep understanding of them – and you need that now more than ever.
This is my personal take on what he wrote. Any mistakes or misinterpretations are mine alone.
Presence: The encounter requires your presence and there are two components to this. First, is, don’t be there. Any time you ask Selco and Toby what you should do in a dangerous situation, their immediate response is “don’t be there.” And that is true of many of the things happening right now. Going to a protest, for example, is automatically putting you at high risk of being involved in a violent encounter.
Your second option is to leave the situation. If you find yourself in a scenario in which you could be embroiled in a violent encounter, leave. This is like “don’t be there” but in action form. If you see a crowd gathering up ahead chanting and raising their fists in the air, turn around and go a different way. If you are in a setting in which someone makes you feel uncomfortable, trust your instincts and leave. Don’t talk yourself out of listening to your gut. You’re not being silly. (This is especially true for women.)
Use your voice. First, you can try to de-escalate the situation. If you can’t avoid it and you can’t leave, verbal de-escalation is your next best bet. This depends heavily upon your understanding of psychology. You want to calm the situation down and one of the best ways to do that is setting up what Miller refers to as a “face-saving exit.” If you are dealing with one member of a crowd, that person will have a lot of personal investment in not being embarrassed in front of his or her friends. You’ll want to think of a way to defuse things while sparing the person from that humiliation. This, of course, sucks, because we all want to kick the butts of someone who is treating us unreasonably. However, your goal is to get away from this encounter without being hurt or killed. If you are alive and uninjured, you’ve won.
Your other voice option is a sharp command if you seem like the kind of person who can back this up. Take me, for example, a middle-aged mama. A command from me is unlikely to have a huge effect on an angry group. However, a command from me backed up by a gun in my hand would be a lot more convincing. (This is something that has actually happened to me – you can read about it here.)
Touch. In some situations, touch can be used to de-escalate a conflict. Touch can be soothing, it can help to distract someone fixated on potentially hurting you, and it can help to defuse situations that haven’t gone too far. If you are not stronger than your potential opponent, this should be used very cautiously, as touching them puts you within their reach as well. For many women, this is not going to be a viable option.
Physical control. This is another thing that won’t work for everyone. But if it is within your wheelhouse, you might be able to prevent the violence from escalating by physically controlling the attacker. This prevents them from harming you or anyone else around you. At this point, you’re beginning to get into territory that could have legal consequences. This is also another thing that may not be particularly viable for women against a male assailant.
Use less than lethal force. The next step up the ladder is less than lethal force. This might mean pepper spray, a taser, or a physical blow, to name a few options. This can be a defensive preventative that will work in some cases. If you are able to stun your attacker, it can be the thing that allows you to move back down the ladder to step one – not being there. Physically overpowering an assailant and injuring them to the extent they can no longer hurt you is an option but, again, you’ll very likely face legal consequences unless it is well-witnessed or provable that you had no less violent options.
Use lethal force. The final solution in this hierarchy is lethal force. This should not be your first choice unless your life is in imminent danger. You can’t just shoot someone because you decide they “deserve” it or because you feel they’re inflicting an injustice upon you. Well, you can, but you can also expect a trial that will empty out your bank accounts and cause your family to potentially lose their home and any other assets while you finance your defense. Then, if you win, you get to start all over again economically. If you lose, you spend five years to the rest of your life in prison. Lethal force must be legally justified and even then, you can end up suffering immensely for having used it.
Again – I strongly recommend you read Rory Miller’s book on this topic, as it is far more detailed than I can be in a quick article and filled with personal anecdotes that make it a very interesting read. You really do have far more options than just killing someone and most of the time, the other options will be better for your future as well as the future of your family.
How do you plan to respond to the threat of violence?
We’re living in a world where unruly groups of people are spending their evenings out trying to intimidate people who they feel “deserve” it, without actually knowing anything about their targets. Any of us could become a target.
Understand that I sincerely believe in the right to armed self-defense. It is our basic human right to protect ourselves, our families, and our property. But I urge you to use temperance when making rapid decisions that could have long-term consequences. These aren’t problems with three-second solutions, and to look at them that way is both ignorant and short-sighted.
It’s good to think these things through ahead of time and consider what your own options are. You’ll need to weigh your personal abilities and limitations against these steps. Remember that your response to potential violence can affect the rest of your life and make your decisions with this in mind.