Up until now, Friday Fundamentals has focused on mechanical issues. This issue is going to focus on mental processes. An incident that was in the news recently drives the discussion.
“It scared me absolutely to death,” said Sherry McLain. She was loading groceries into her car this past Saturday in the crowded Walmart parking lot on Old Fort Parkway in Murfreesboro.
That’s when a strange man approached, surprising her, and she pulled her revolver. “I have never been so afraid of anything in my whole life I don’t think,”
There are a number of problems here that led to her arrest.
- Her level of fear was irrational. Witnesses and surveillance cameras confirmed that the man simply spoke to her from 10 feet away.
- Being startled and being legitimately rationally afraid are two entirely different things.
- She doesn’t understand the difference between setting boundaries and enforcing boundaries.
- Because she doesn’t understand the difference, she didn’t comprehend that when we are defending ourselves, there’s a hierarchy involved. First, we set the boundary and then we enforce it, not vice versa.
- As a result, she now has another issue; the criminal justice system. She was arrested for aggravated assault and reckless endangerment. Based on the current information, I doubt that will go well for her.
Let’s make something clear at the outset, when you pull a gun on someone, you’re threatening to kill them. It doesn’t matter whether you say a word or not, you’re threatening to kill them. Some people apparently don’t understand that and the gravitas it carries. You better have a good reason for doing so. Irrational fear is not a good reason. Simply being startled is not a good reason.
The question of how this might have been avoided brings us to the issues of controlling fear, setting boundaries, and enforcing boundaries.
Controlling fear is a complex topic that is not often discussed in the training community. If anything, the community tends to promote fear, “I was in fear for my life” having become almost a mantra. The woman in the incident invoked it but the police were unimpressed. The difference between reasonable fear and irrational fear is frequently left out of that discussion. It’s somewhat pathetic that there’s better literature in the competitive swimming community about how to control fear than there is in the self-defense community. Learning to control fear is a process beyond the scope of a single blog post. It behooves those who carry deadly weapons to do some research on the topic.
The next issue is boundary setting and boundary enforcement. This is a process more easily trained than controlling fear. Boundary setting and enforcement are simply elements of a process. All we need to do is understand the process and practice it.
It’s important to understand that we set boundaries with communication and barriers, not with tools. The communication can be either verbal or non-verbal. The most obvious form of barriers are the homes we live in, assuming the doors and windows are closed and locked. If a criminal fails to respect the boundaries we set, then we use tools, in this case weapons, to enforce the boundaries. We don’t use tools at the outset to set our boundaries.
One of the biggest issues we have as a society is that we have forgotten or gotten out of the habit of saying NO! That can be done either verbally or non-verbally. Training to say NO! should be a primary lesson in every class on personal protection and people should practice it on a regular basis. Simply raising an outstretched hand and shaking the head can accomplish a lot. Keep in mind that a great deal of communication is non-verbal; we can use that fact to our advantage.
A proper sequence that would have kept this woman out of trouble might be as follows:
Recognize that being startled is not the same as being afraid. She was startled because she was task fixated on loading her groceries in the car, i.e., she had not one bit of situational awareness. Most people are like that. In this sort of a situation, looking around before you get to the car, as you arrive at it, and then after loading each bag goes a long way toward avoiding being startled. Positioning the car for safety helps too. In the sense of color or awareness codes, she was in White or Unaware.
If she had been in Yellow or Aware and seen him approach, there’s nothing wrong with being proactive and raising the hand in the ‘stop’ gesture. That’s the first step in setting a boundary. Her mental state at that point could be described as Orange or Alert.
And yes, at this point, we could invoke the boogeyman of ‘The 21 foot rule’ that Dennis Tueller himself says has become terribly misconstrued. But the circumstances where a criminal runs up to someone in a WalMart parking lot and slashes their throat are far less common than ‘incrementing,’ which is a standard way for criminals to operate. Whether those throat slashings are in fact, reality or figbars of overactive imaginations remains to be seen.
If the person continued to advance, a default verbal response of ‘Stop, don’t come any closer’ clearly sets the boundary. Any decent person would stop at that point. If the person doesn’t stop, it’s an indicator that something nefarious is developing. The mental state shifts to Red or Alarm. Once the intent of the other party becomes more clear, then we can make a decision about which tool we want to employ to enforce the boundary. We can also determine what barriers we might employ in the process. That, too, is a discussion for another time. The boundary setting and enforcement decision process is what’s important in this particular case.
Another thing to consider is that any time we get a gun out for defensive purposes; be that from a holster, purse, nightstand, safe, or whatever, there’s a possibility it’s going to be fired, either intentionally or unintentionally. The more scared we are, the higher that possibility. Therein lays one of my chief objections to brandishing, which is what the lady did; the possibility it will culminate in a Negligent Discharge.
Since thinking about the ‘worst case’ is something many people like to do, let’s examine the possibility of a Negligent Discharge in this situation. Say the woman had an ND as she pointed her revolver at the man or the other people present. It’s probably a good thing for all of the parties involved that she had a revolver and not a striker fired autoloader. If her irrational fear had caused her to have an ND, what would be her eventual statement in court? Something to the effect of “He asked me for a light, I was scared so I drew my pistol, I had an Accidental Discharge, which resulted in a death. It was an accident.” Most likely, she’d go up the river for Manslaughter. Fortunately, that particular Negative Outcome didn’t happen. What did happen was the Negative Outcome of ‘Police Involvement,’ to wit, getting arrested.
If this lady had understood the awareness and boundary processes and then used them properly, she probably would have gone home instead of getting arrested. That’s something for all of us to consider.
Several Negative Outcomes were brought to my attention this week. One was yet another incident of someone shooting their spouse, thinking it was a burglar. She died as a result of one shot to the chest.
The husband told police it was an accident. He told officers he woke up around 4:15 Saturday morning and heard noises in his house … He told investigators he grabbed his gun and when he saw a light on and someone standing in the distance, he took a shot. He said the person he ended up hitting once in the chest was his wife.
This sad situation bolsters my contention that when we pick up a pistol at home, we have to pick up a flashlight at the same time. That’s why I made flashlight shooting an integral part of The Tactical Professor’s Pistol Practice Program. To get some repetitions in and reinforce the habit for myself, I went to the range this week and shot the entire NRA Defensive Pistol I marksmanship program using a flashlight.
As a curiosity, I also used a timer instead of going by the PAR times in the program. The pistol I used was a Beretta Jaguar in .22 Long Rifle. Many in the industry poo-poo the .22 as a defensive tool but .22s have worked for me. An aspect of .22s I like in the practice context is that shooting several hundred rounds in one session isn’t punishing, either physically or financially. I shot it at my gun club but the way Defensive Pistol I is structured, it can be shot at just about any indoor range. That’s an aspect of the program I really like.
What I did was to have my pistol, my flashlight, and the timer on a stool in front of me. The target was downrange at the specified seven yards.
When the timer went off, I would pick up my pistol and flashlight simultaneously, assume the cheek position, and then shoot the specified string of fire. For the phases requiring loading the pistol on the clock, I picked up the pistol and magazine, loaded it, and then picked up the flashlight. After each string, I recorded my times. The NRA provides a scoresheet but it is set up for Pass/fail scoring, so I made my own scoring matrix.
I checked the target after each string to make sure that I had the required 100 percent hits. At the end of each phase; Pro-Marksman, Marksman, etc., I marked the target with blue dots to cover my hits.
For most of the program, I used the cheek technique.
The Expert phase requires shooting around both sides of the cover. When shooting around the left side, I continued to use the cheek technique. When shooting around the right side, I used the Harries technique.
The Distinguished Expert phase doesn’t specify shooting around both sides of the cover. However, it does requires eight runs instead of four, so I shot four around the right side and four around the left side.
I was able to maintain the 100 percent standard and got a good idea of my times to accomplish each Phase.
Isn’t it just common sense to ensure you know what you’re shooting at?
That question was posted on my Claude Werner, Researcher and Analyst page.
It’s an important question that we need to put in perspective.
Not intending to be pejorative but there is no such thing as ‘common sense.’ What we refer to as ‘common sense’ is actually learned behavior based on our past experience.
For instance, as adults, we consider it ‘common sense’ to not stick our hand in a fire. When we were three years old, we didn’t know it would hurt and probably found it out the hard way.
Similarly, we as gun people would consider it ‘common sense’ to not look down the bore of a firearm. If you gave a pistol to an Australian Aborigine, one of the first things they would do is look down the bore because in their worldview, knowing what’s in a hole is really important. Even Al Gore did it when he was searching for the Internet in Viet Nam. That was before he realized he had to invent it.
Ninety-nine percent of what most people know about firearms usage they learned from TV and the movies. In those media, there is never any ambiguity about the shoot/no shoot decision. As a result, when people get placed in a real set of circumstances, they do indeed default to their ‘training,’ which is the media programming. So they tend to make mistakes and shoot, even if it’s not appropriate. I once bemoaned to a colleague that my Threat Management classes didn’t sell. His response was “Nobody buys a gun with the idea that they’re not going to use it.” His comment put it in perspective for me.
The Los Angeles Times recently published an Op-ed piece entitled Why the police shouldn’t use Glocks. I find it shortsighted and the author’s reasoning incomplete and faulty.
Although I prefer a Double Action Only or Double Action/Single Action gun for my personal use, I perceive several issues with the article.
The half-inch difference of trigger travel may not sound like much, but it can be the difference between life and death.
The statement is a core issue. There’s no control statement about how many successful uses can be attributed to the GLOCK’s shorter trigger. The first shot is both the most important and, with DA guns, the most often missed. Aside from the possibility of ending the fight sooner, the issue of errant rounds flying around the community is also disturbing.
A number of major and minor agencies use guns with much longer double-action triggers that are just as easy to fire deliberately but that are much harder to fire accidentally.
That’s a well couched statement. If we substitute the term ‘hit with’ for ‘fire,’ it completely falls apart. Making the gun go off is just part of the equation; hitting the intended target is equally important.
Much as I like them, double-action triggers are NOT just as easy to hit with deliberately as a Glock’s. If we include shooting in reaction time, vis–à–vis deliberately, the equation shifts even more in the Glock’s favor. For smaller statured officers, it’s sometimes nearly impossible to grip and shoot a double action gun well. Having taught numerous smaller military personnel to use the M9 pistol, I can say unequivocally that grip size and trigger reach can be a major problem.
Granted, many officers can learn to shoot a double action gun reasonably well with plenty of training and regular practice. However, that’s not the reality of police administration, either from the hiring or the budgetary perspectives.
What critics should be addressing instead is the brutal reality that short trigger pulls and natural human reflexes are a deadly combination.
In a shootout with a criminal, that’s exactly the point that the author seems to miss. A well-placed source provided some insight to me about the FBI’s decision to issue Glocks years ago, after resisting them for years. “The New Agents could shoot them so much better than the Sigs it was striking.” This from the law enforcement agency with perhaps the most extensive firearms training program in the world.
All equipment has issues associated with it. The accidents cited in the article are tragic and regrettable. However, arguments similar to the author’s could be made for putting speed governors on police vehicles because police officers sometimes get into crashes, with resulting casualties, during pursuits or requests for service. I don’t see any call for that. If avoiding unintentional casualties is the main issue and only criterion, why not just go back to revolvers?
The author didn’t make much of a case for his opinion other than citing a few Negative Outcomes. Without providing the other facets of the decision making process and then weighting the various aspects, it’s a weak argument. The selection of a firearm, whether for police service or individual use, is a complex one. The ability to use it safely is key. However, the ability to use it effectively is just as important.
I am 62 and not nearly as strong as I once was. So long as he is only shouting, that’s where it will stay. Touch [me], I’m too old to fight. I will shoot.
An Internet Common Tater
Merrill “Mike” Kimball encountered one of the worst Negative Outcomes, being convicted of murder. Leon Kelley experienced the worst of them all, getting killed.
There are a number of items relating to decision-making, both during the confrontation and preceding it, that bear discussion in this case. Decisions are often made based on attitude and feelings, rather than facts. Most gun control arguments are rooted in feelings and we gunowners belittle anti-gunners for that. However, don’t think that the same reliance on fact rather than feeling can’t come back to haunt us in the courtroom.
An aspect of the Kimball shooting that I find interesting is that the ‘disparity of force’ aspect swayed the jury not at all. Leon Kelly was half a foot taller and outweighed Merrill Kimball by over 100 pounds but the jury didn’t care. The above Common Tater has the same attitude Mike Kimball displayed on October 6, 2013. Unfortunately, the jury didn’t see it that as a justification. A fear of serious bodily injury has to be seen as ‘reasonable.’ As a Maine defense attorney wrote on his blog
note the use of the word ‘reasonably’ [in the Maine statute]. Whimsical or irrational beliefs attributed to the defendant do not suffice.
Just because some of us are older (I’m 60) doesn’t mean we can think every assault is cause to respond with deadly force. This is why I tell every Defensive Pistol class I teach:
Failure to have an Intermediate Force option implies that all you are willing to do to protect yourself and your family is kill someone. That’s not a position I care to put myself in, nor should any rational adult.
For now, I’m not going to address the wisdom of even going to the scene of the confrontation, all things considered. However, if Mr. Kimball had carried a can of pepper spray with him, he probably wouldn’t be facing the probability of spending the rest of his life behind bars. I hear many objections to carrying pepper spray. Without exception, they are foolish, yet speciously alluring. As the prosecutor commented about the Kimball case:
People have a right to carry firearms, but the law only provides for use of firearms in defense in very limited and particular circumstances, and this was not one of them.
I would much rather carry a can of pepper spray than a spare magazine or a defensive knife. The chances you will need a spare magazine are infinitesimal. The reasons I hear for carrying a spare magazine tend to be:
- Carrying an extra implies you know what you’re doing.
- That you know that most semi-auto malfunctions are mag-related.
- That you know to top off after the fight.
- That you know that 6 rounds of .380 isn’t that much.
- That there might be another adversary.
The chances you will need a non-lethal response to an ugly situation are much higher than any of those reasons. Being shoved, even repeatedly, is not sufficient legal provocation for a killing. Even if it was, do you want to kill someone in front of your wife and son, as Mr. Kimball did, unless it’s absolutely necessary? But if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Ponder the implications the next time you strap on your heater.
I’m shocked because I thought the case was a question of manslaughter. Hung jury, possibly guilty of manslaughter, but more likely ‘not guilty.’ It just seemed to me that the relative sizes of the two people made it clear that my client was in a jam that he couldn’t get out of except to use a firearm.
So said the defense attorney for Merrill “Mike” Kimball after his client was found guilty of murder for fatally shooting 63-year-old Leon Kelley in 2013. Obviously, things did not come to pass the way he thought they would. Regardless of the outcome of an appeal, being convicted of murder is a Negative Outcome.
Cast of characters for the drama:
- Stan Brown – 95 year old owner of Brown’s Bee Farm
- Karen Thurlow-Kimball – shooter’s wife. Managed the farm and sold the honey
- Merrill “Mike” Kimball – shooter (5 feet 11 inches tall, 170 pounds)
- Damon Carroll – Thurlow-Kimball’s son
- Daniel Lilley – Kimball’s attorney
- Leon Kelley – victim (6 feet 4 inches tall, 285 pounds)
- Kathleen Kelley – victim’s wife, Stan Brown’s daughter, and witness
- Craig Rawnsley – Kathleen Kelley’s son (6 feet 2 inches tall, 205 pounds)
- Robin Rawnsley-Dutil – victim Kelley’s stepdaughter and witness
- Daryl Rawnsley – deputy chief of the Cumberland Fire Department
- Libby Adams – Brown’s daughter-in-law, bookkeeper for the bee business
- Matthew Crockett – Assistant Attorney General
- John Alsop – Assistant Attorney General
Events preceding the day of the shooting.
- Thurlow-Kimball begins working for Brown at the farm in 2009, when Brown’s son died.
- Thurlow-Kimball becomes manager of the bee farm.
- Brown eventually includes Thurlow-Kimball in his will, leaving the bee business and a part of his property to her. The family deeply resents this.
Oct. 6, 2013
- Around 1 p.m., Craig Rawnsley calls Thurlow-Kimball and accuses her of wrongdoing. He tells her “things were going to change at his grandfather’s farm.”
- At the time of the phone call, Merrill Kimball had just gotten off his boat and gone to a friend’s house to watch a Patriots game. He drank two rum and cokes while he was there.
- Thurlow-Kimball immediately calls Brown’s daughter-in-law, Libby Adams. Adams tells her the Kelley family plans to change the locks on the bee farm sales shop.
- The shop contains about two dozen jars of honey, totaling about 700 pounds. The honey, which contractually belongs to Thurlow-Kimball, has a value between $4,000 and $7,000.
- Rawnsley-Dutil calls her mother and Kelley, her stepfather, at their home 40 miles away, and asks them to come to the farm. The senior Kelleys then drive to the Bee Farm and arrive before the Kimballs.
- Thurlow-Kimball enlists her husband and son to help her get the honey out of the shop. They drive to the shop in two vehicles.
- Around 3 p.m., Kimball and his family arrive to load the honey jars.
- Rawnsley-Dutil and her brother follow the vehicles up the driveway on foot. Kelley drives up in his 3½-ton truck with the license plate ‘AWFUL.’
- Kelley family confronts Kimball family.
- Craig Rawnsley blocks the shop door and accuses the Kimball family of trespassing.
- Kimball asks who Kelley was. The two men had never met before that day.
- Kathleen Kelley calls the police.
- Thurlow-Kimball refused to leave the property, insisting on waiting for a police officer to arrive.
- Kelley put his hand on Kimball’s shoulders, spins him around, and follows as Kimball backs down the driveway. Kimball later states that Kelley shoved him five or six times total.
- Kimball retreats roughly 35 feet being followed by Kelley until he is in the driveway nearly to the treeline. The driveway extends to his right and left, at this point.
- Kimball, who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, draws his Ruger LCP .380, and fires three shots into Kelley’s torso at a range of 4 -10 feet.
- Kelley falls down after being shot and clutches his abdomen.
- Robin Rawnsley-Dutil immediately takes a photograph of the scene and then begins recording a video.
- Kathleen Kelley remains on the 911 call after her husband is shot.
- Rawnsley calls his brother, Daryl Rawnsley, deputy chief of the Cumberland Fire Department, for medical assistance.
- Kelley is transported by ambulance to a hospital and dies shortly thereafter.
- The state police sergeant who was the first officer to arrive at the scene said he could “smell the odor of liquor” on Kimball. Kimball did not seem impaired, other than failing to immediately respond when when the sergeant commanded him to put his hands up and get on the ground.
- Kimball maintains the shooting was done in self-defense. “The man attacked me. The man pushed me back. I was in fear for my life. I nearly fell down, and he kept coming.” Kimball’s words were captured on a police cruiser’s onboard camera.
- Kimball is questioned but not arrested.
- A video re-enactment is recorded by Kimball at Brown’s Bee Farm on November 4.
- Kimball is indicted on the charge of murder.
- He posts bail and remains free.
April 2015 (not necessarily in chronological order)
- Kimball rejects a plea offer to manslaughter before the start of the trial.
- The trial commences on April 6, 2015.
- The prosecution contends that Kimball could have continued to retreat by turning left or right down the driveway rather than shooting.
- Maine is one of 16 states whose self-defense laws require retreat for as long as safely possible before using deadly force.
- The prosecution alleges that Kimball took a concealed pistol and an extra clip [sic] of ammunition to Brown’s Bee Farm because he expected trouble from the Kelley family.
- Kelley family members admit in court that Thurlow-Kimball was not trespassing and that they had no right to tell her to leave.
- Members of the Kelley family make several contradictory statements about the events leading up to the shooting.
- Rawnsley-Dutil states that Kelley put his hand on Kimball’s shoulders shortly before the shooting, spun him around and followed Kimball as he backed down the driveway. She admits Kelley may have shoved Kimball additional times.
- Craig Rawnsley admits he put his hand on Carroll’s shoulder to stop him from moving and states “Damon (Carroll), he is not as big as me.”
- Assistant Attorney General Alsop describes the shooting as: “Bam. Bam. Bam. There was no pause. Merrill Kimball fired three rapid shots right in the middle of Leon Kelley.”
- The video re-enactment recorded by Kimball is played for the jury.
- The state’s chief medical examiner testifies that the first shot had most likely felled Kelley. He also stated that “All three of these were potentially fatal.”
- The cellphone photo taken after the shooting is shown to the jury.
- Craig Rawnsley testifies that Kelley wouldn’t have “escalated the situation” if he had known Kimball was armed.
- Defense Attorney Lilley says “They brought him [Kelley] along because he was mean and he was a badass. They brought him along because he was big.”
- “The issue for me in this case is there were three shots fired and whether he was acting in self-defense in all three shots or less,” said Justice Roland Cole.
- The jury deliberates for six hours over two days. They have the options of finding him guilty of murder, manslaughter or acquittal.
- The jury finds Kimball guilty of murder on April 15, 2015.
- The possible sentence is 25 years to life in prison.
- Kimball is taken into custody.
- Kimball’s lawyer indicates the intent to appeal, which cannot be filed until after Kimball is sentenced. Sentencing will be scheduled in the next six weeks.
The above account is based on the trial reporting of Scott Dolan, Staff Writer for the Portland Press Herald newspaper.
I’ll look at the implications of this over the next few days.
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.
Living in California, I think it may be in my best interest to consider the worst-case scenario.
–a person who shall remain anonymous
I’ve previously mentioned my issue with planning for the worst case, but since ‘worst case planning’ comes up so often, the topic bears some further discussion. The essential problem is assuming that planning for the worst case is merely planning for the most likely case taken to a greater extent. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true. The optimum solution in worst case planning may actually be a less, or even least, optimal solution for the most likely case.
The questions of competing probabilities and definitional issues rear their ugly heads again in this decision process. As an example, the worst case scenario that people imagine in a home defense scenario consists of multiple intruders, armed with projectile weapons, with their weapons in hand, ready to shoot the defender in reaction time. While that’s certainly possible, it’s definitely not the most likely case, if the bump in the night is really a burglar. And even the definition of ‘worst possible case’ is open to question in the context of home defense, as is the definition in many contexts.
The question I posed previously was “Is ‘the worst possible case’ having a dangerous armed intruder in your house or shooting and killing a family member by mistake?” Therein lays the definitional issue. The statistical/tactical issue is that the most likely case is probably a lone intruder, not armed with a projectile weapon, who is preoccupied with stealing your stuff and not waiting in ambush for you.
Let’s address the statistical/tactical issue since I’ve already mentioned the definitional issue. In the past, I have, in fact, planned for the worst possible burglary case envisioned by people. My plan for a late night, already in bed, worst case scenario was as follows:
- Put on my M17A1 protective mask
- Place my pistol (then a 1911A1) in hand
- Open the bedroom door slightly
- Pick up an M7 CS grenade and pull the pin, using a small hook I had placed on the door frame
- Have my then wife grab onto my clothing, close her eyes, and stop breathing
- Roll the grenade out into the kitchen and let it fill the house with CS gas
- My house was small and
- would have completely filled with CS gas within a few seconds
- Go out the door and move toward the back door as an exit
- Shoot anyone who was in my way in the head, whether they were standing or laying on the ground prostrate from the effects of the gas
- I’ve been in a confined cloud of CS from a grenade; it’s incredibly incapacitating.
- That’s where I got the idea.
- It’s not like the CS chamber most veterans have been exposed to.
- Exit the house, regroup, and plan my next move to a safer location
I was certain of the efficacy of this plan, since even a hardened group of assassins would be unlikely to expect a counterattack that would have made John Wick look like an Eagle Scout. However, I did consider that there were several downsides to the plan.
- Most likely, the grenade would have set the house on fire and burned it down. My landlord would have been unhappy and the couple who lived upstairs might have burned to death.
- The authorities probably would probably take a dim view of my executing a bunch of people, even if they did have nefarious intent.
- If my then wife had been accidently overcome by the gas, I would have been faced with the choice of finding her, picking her up, and carrying her out of the house, or leaving her behind with the rest of the deaders while the house was burning. (I would have carried her out, but that is a decision, not a given, in a serious house fire.)
I had also planned a lower intensity response for the more likely scenario of one guy with a screwdriver stealing my stuff. That plan was to challenge him from whatever concealment was available and tell him to get out. If he took one step toward me, I would have shot him. If I could see he had a projectile weapon, in hand or not, I would have shot him immediately.
Note that even in a simple scenario, there’s a decision tree (if, then, else). Those kinds of decisions are best made ahead of time. Making decisions before the situation arises is part of the Orient phase of the OODA process. Forward looking decisions are what allow you to speed up decision-making in the moment, not trying to think faster on the spot. Trying to construct a decision process in the midst of an incident will force you back into the Orient phase and actually slow down your decision-making.
The issue with worst case planning is that it usually ignores both the direct and opportunity costs implicit in the plan. Worst case planning also frequently lacks any branching or contingency aspects, which is not the way life works. Consider carefully ALL the ramifications of worst case planning in light of most likely case possibilities. What you may find is that it’s best to plan and prepare for the most likely case. Then, think of how that plan can be adapted to a much smaller probability of the worst case scenario.
A completely irrelevant post on Facebook (a new flamethrower) brought something to mind that I hadn’t thought about in a couple of decades. It relates to the concept of defining the mission, desired outcome, and possible consequences. Those are things integral, yet unstated, to the Orient phase of the OODA process and fundamental to achieving success.
Most discussions about OODA get caught up in the speed aspect, which is actually a tertiary part of the process. It’s not just a simple speed-based looping cycle, as is often depicted.
Years ago, I had a friend who didn’t care for guns but kept a flare pistol for home defense. She mentioned this to me in conversation. Her logic was that she didn’t want to kill someone. My response was “So you don’t want to kill someone but you’re okay with launching something into him that burns at several thousand degrees and might burn your house down?” She said she hadn’t thought about it that way. It certainly would have been possible for her to Act quickly but would it have been a good decision? I don’t think so.
It’s easy to get caught up in a linear process from the starting point without looking far enough down the path to a likely result and consequence. One component of Awareness is to keep your head up and look far down the road, just as you should when driving, rather than being fixated on the bumper in front of you.
It’s important to note that what is considered the most successful recent example of Boyd’s thinking was the planning of the First Gulf War. It took months and involved several different iterations of the strategic plan. In Boyd’s original hand drawn diagram of the OODA process, he actually had three different loops; one depicting planning, one depicting execution, and a third showing an overlay of the previous two. The third version is the popularized full diagram but it obscures the importance of the analysis/synthesis part of the process. There are many inputs necessary, including consequences, before an effective decision can be made. That planning is what makes rapid, effective Action possible.
Keeping in mind the desired outcome has to always be part of our decision-making. ‘Outcome Based Decision-Making’ should be an integral part of our thought process. As they said in DEA:
Focus on the object, not on the obstacle.
Continuing on about the Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference held annually in the Memphis area, I would like to cover the high points of some sessions I attended.
John Hearne’s Performance Under Fire presentation was so packed with information that it’s hard to take it all in. He does a fine job of refuting the pseudo-science that pervades the personal protection training community. His research is thorough, up to date, and can document fully what he says. An aspect of his approach I like is the way he tracks the original science to see if it has subsequently been refuted. John is one of the few people in the community besides myself who has any clue about how to do research. Here’s a clue; taking information from a firearms or martial arts trainer at face value is not a valid approach. I found numerous points in his presentation quite useful.
He stated that there are actually 21 documentable ‘flinch responses,’ most of which do not involve throwing one’s hands up in the air. So if there are a variety of responses, how do you know which one you will exhibit and is it going to be the same one every time? Years ago, Ken Hackathorn told me to watch surveillance video of convenience store robberies to see how many people threw their hands up in the air when they were startled. The answer is ‘not many.’
One of my personal pet peeves is the continuing blathering about Hick’s Law in the community. John made the point that Hick’s Law was largely discredited in the scientific community decades ago. For those unfamiliar, Hick’s Law states that the more options you have, the longer it will take to make a decision, by a square of the number of choices. The original study was sort of iffy anyway and subsequent research has shown that it’s only true in the absence of any familiarity with the task and absent any practice on the decision making.
The subsequent power law of practice states that the more practice you have at making the decision, the faster you get at making it. There’s some question as to whether the practice/speed relationship is logarithmic or exponential but there’s no question about the validity of the power law. Think about it in terms of when you are driving. When you see the brake lights of the car in front of you come on, there’s no conscious decision making about whether you’re going to hit the gas or the brake, unless you’re a 15 year old student driver.
An important point John made was about the career time of when law enforcement officers were feloniously assaulted. The average time was about eight years. I believe John referenced this from the 2006 FBI study Violent Encounters, A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers, but I don’t recall for sure. This was important to me because it highlighted the factor of complacency in Negative Outcomes.
Although I lack the rigorous methodology that the FBI used, it’s my feeling this is also a factor in Negative Outcomes by Armed Private Citizens. Complacency can be a killer. We see it every day at gun ranges, gun shops, and shooting clubs. Complacency is why some people have one year of experience 20 times instead of 20 years of experience and is closely related to the “I know it all” syndrome. We have all had to deal with ‘know-it-alls’ and ‘spring-butts’ and never like it. It’s up to us individually to make sure we don’t fall into the trap and challenge others who have.
Just to show that John can put his money where his mouth is, he won the High Lawman and Second Place overall in the shooting contest.
I’ll have more about the Conference next time.