In every encounter, there is an element of chance.
–John Hall, former head of the FBI Firearms Training Unit
In previous parts of this series (I-IV), the concept discussed was physical awareness and positioning in relation to an adversary or situation. A recent incident captured on video relates to a different but similar concept: emotional awareness and positioning.
In the incident, a veteran observed a bum aka ‘homeless person’ wearing a mixed service uniform while panhandling. He was justifiably incensed, as would be most veterans. “I was angry. I was frustrated. I was sad” he said. I don’t blame him. However, what resulted from his feelings was neither smart nor legally justifiable.
The veteran aggressively challenged the bum from a distance, then closed with him, pursued him across several lanes of traffic, and continued to pursue him on the other side of the boulevard. As the incident unfolds, the bum tries to disengage, is verbally apologetic, and changes direction several times attempting to escape. The entire time the veteran is loudly shouting, verbally forces the bum to remove part of his clothing, and then blocks the bum’s escape path. The incident went on for several minutes.
While I sympathize with the veteran’s frustration, the simple fact of the matter is that he let his emotions get away from him. A couple of relevant declarations made at this year’s Rangemaster Tactical Conference come to mind.
- John Hearne, in his presentation Performance Under Fire, made the statement “You’ve got to keep your emotions under control.”
- My colleague Nick Hughes mentioned to me in conversation a question he poses in his book, How To Be Your Own Bodyguard. “Are you doing this because you have to or because you want to?” He then related a personal anecdote where a person had to remind him of his own question.
When the veteran/bum video was posted on Facebook, I had two responses.
- Good way to get stabbed.
- Regardless of what I was doing, if someone acted toward me the way the veteran did toward the bum, I would have painted him orange in a New York second. And the police would have then told me to have a nice day. It was aggressive challenging behavior that anyone would be justified in feeling threatened by (although not sufficiently to employ lethal force, which is why I advocate always carrying pepper spray).
If we go looking for trouble, we had better be prepared to find it. Make no mistake: verbally challenging someone, shouting at them, chasing them, forcing them to remove their clothing, and then blocking their escape route is looking for trouble. Such a situation always has branching possibilities (if, then, else) that people don’t generally consider before jumping over the edge of the cliff.
- If the bum had pulled out a knife, then what would have been an appropriate, or even possible, response at that point? I make the assumption that all itinerants I encounter are armed with some kind of weapon.
- What if the bum had run out in front of a car and been struck and killed?
- What if a car had hit the vet while he was chasing the bum across the street?
- What if they had gotten into a physical conflict and ended up rolling around in traffic?
There are other possibilities also, but those are good examples of possible Negative Outcomes well within the realm of possibility. In any of those cases, the situation would have gone downhill for the vet like an avalanche.
So, let’s go back to Nick’s question: was the vet doing this because he had to or because he wanted to? That answer is quite clear, he wanted to. He felt the need to defend the honor of his service and the service of his fellow veterans.
Unfortunately, it’s very hard to provide a legal, or even moral, justification for using force to defend honor. Even if no legal repercussions arise, moral ones can. If the bum had run into traffic and been struck and killed, how do you think the veteran would have felt for the rest of his life, even if no charges were filed against him?
John Farnam’s saying “Avoid stupid people, stupid places, and stupid things” is definitely apropos in this situation. All three of those elements were broken. Jeff Cooper alluded many years ago to the fact that the more ‘rules’ we break simultaneously, the more possibility we will incur a problem. When we lose control of our emotions, that’s when we start unconsciously breaking rules, whether they are legal rules or just rules of good judgment and conduct.
With every decision we make, we are setting ourselves up either for success or failure. Keeping a check on our emotions helps set ourselves up for success. Letting our emotions get out of control is good way to set ourselves up for failure.