A good man always knows his limitations.
–Inspector Harry Callahan
As early as the colonial times, it was recognized that shooting firearms is an athletic endeavor. Thomas Jefferson implied as much to his nephew, when he recommended shooting rather than “games played with the ball” as a pastime. In any physical endeavor, it’s useful to establish a benchmark. This concept applies in:
- Medicine – what’s your blood pressure? Your doctor probably doesn’t just look at your face and decide if you have high blood pressure or not. A measurement is required. And that measurement is then evaluated in relation to established benchmarks for normal, pre‑hypertensive, or hypertensive conditions.
- Sports – universally, sports rely on numerical performance indicators. A team would certainly not field a player without having looked at the player’s performance stats. While good stats are no guarantee of success on the playing field, poor stats are unlikely to lead to success.
- Education – making acceptable grades is generally required to graduate from any educational institution. If your child went to a school that never evaluated performance, you probably would be unhappy about that. The general problem of that in our schools today is beyond the scope of this discussion. Suffice to say that any parent whose child can’t read but still is allowed to graduate from school should be very, very unhappy.
Avoiding Negative Outcomes is another key reason for why people might choose to have standards. This is where Dirty Harry’s statement comes into play. Two particular incidents come to mind as examples.
- A woman in Mississippi shot and killed her husband with a handgun while trying to protect him from an attacking dog. One bullet missed the dog and struck the husband in the chest, killing him.
- In Texas, a woman and her roommates were victims of a home invasion. When she fired her shotgun at the invaders, she missed them both but shot and seriously injured one of her roommates. This incident highlights a downside of owning a shotgun for home defense. There are few places those who live in urban or suburban areas can do any meaningful home defense practice with a shotgun.
“Weapons System” is a military buzzphrase that should be considered in the context of having standards. When a person picks up a firearm for personal protection, the combination of person and firearm become a ‘weapon system.’ Compatibility of the firearm with the person operating it is an important aspect of an appropriate choice.
- What works for you? Although the Glock pistol is enormously popular, it’s not the right choice for everyone. The other side of the coin is that the snub nose .38 revolver often recommended for women isn’t necessarily the right choice either.
- One of my colleagues somewhat rhetorically posed the question “What I shoot the best is a .22; is that what I should carry [or keep for home defense]?” That’s actually a really good question. If a person could only successfully shoot a very simple testing protocol with a .22, what’s the answer? Especially where senior citizens are concerned, how should they make a decision?
Psychology is yet another aspect of the standards decision. People like to think they know what they’re doing. Conversely, they don’t like not knowing what they’re doing. My friend and colleague Ken Hackathorn states a concept he calls Hackathorn’s Law.
You won’t do something under conditions of stress that you’re not subconsciously sure you can do reasonably well.
His Law has a distinct relationship to the concept of ‘Critical Distance’ in proxemics. Critical Distance is the distance at which pursued prey will turn and initiate a counter-attack against the predator. My analysis is that the North American subconscious Critical Distance is in the zone of 4-7 feet (the near phase of social space).
Those familiar with the Tueller Principle will recognize that primal Critical Distance is only one-third of ‘too close.’ As the late Paul Gomez said, “We’re not teaching people to start shooting soon enough.” If a person never has an inkling of the standard they are capable of shooting to, most likely they will default to the primal Critical Distance.
Liability mitigation is sometimes cited as a reason for having standards. Other than as an unstated barrier to entry, standards have been mentioned as a way for issuing authorities to reduce their liability. To what extent this is actually true remains to be seen but it is stated as a reason.
A significant downside to standards is that encountering or testing them may force a conflict with a person’s ego. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a well-recognized aspect of human nature. It’s the opposite side of the Hackathorn’s Law coin. As one shooter wryly observed,
Getting better is not for everyone.
If a person never tests what their skill level actually is, then this ego conflict is avoided. Many people are okay with that. Unless meeting a standard is mandated, it’s a personal decision.
While researching personal protection incidents in 2015 involving armed females, I came across a story that I found disturbing on several levels. The incident actually took place in October of 2014 but was featured in the Armed Citizen® column of the NRA Official Journals in January 2015.
The incident began when a woman discovered a man raping her pet pit bull one morning. The NRA synopsis is as follows:
Alice Woodruff heard noises outside her home around 10:30 a.m. When she went to investigate, she found a nude man attacking her dog in the backyard. Woodruff grabbed her pistol as a family member dialed 911. She then ran to her car to retrieve the gun’s magazine. She kept her distance from the man and warned him not to come toward her as he ranted about being with ISIS and having Ebola. He then claimed to be the anti-Christ. Woodruff held the man at gunpoint until police arrived shortly thereafter. After a nearly two-hour chase, the assailant was arrested and is expected to be charged after his release from psychiatric placement in a local hospital. (/Republican American/, Waterbury, CT, 10/24/14)
Let’s leave aside the issue of raping a dog, which is disturbing enough. A friend in the animal rescue community has informed me this is far more common than any sane person in the civilized world could believe. Several other more commonplace decisional issues are apparent.
First, in an interview with a local TV station, the woman stated:
I ran in, got my [.380 pistol] out of the bedroom, and realized as usual the ammunition is in my car locked in my glove box.
This is a serious problem of mindset and decision-making. Perhaps the woman is attempting to ensure there is no unauthorized access to a loaded weapon in her home. However, her protocol carries this rule to unreasonable extremes. Fortunately, the situation allowed her to “[keep] a picnic table between herself and the man as she opened the car to grab the magazine” Then:
I showed him the clip went in but I always kept the gun at my side while I was talking to him.
This is yet another decisional issue. She should have loaded the gun the moment she had accessed the magazine. Waiting to demonstrate to the man that she was loading the gun actually demonstrated to him that 1) she wasn’t ready to respond in the first place, and 2) she was not mentally prepared to shoot him.
The standoff with the man continued for several minutes as the man made numerous irrational statements. Although she warned him not to move toward her during the standoff, he eventually did. According to the story, the man was standing about 20 feet away from her. While the intent of the Tueller Principle has become heavily misconstrued in the training community, its applicability to a situation like this is clear. As a result of his moving:
Woodruff fired into the ground nearby when he moved toward her, though she said she wasn’t going to kill him.
The warning shot didn’t deter him. He tilted his head back, stretched his arms to his sides as if he was on a cross, and told her to shoot him, she recounted.
As more people own firearms for protection, it’s likely we will encounter an extrapolation of the ‘suicide by cop’ into ‘suicide by citizen.’ While I have said in the past ‘never say never’ about warning shots, we have to also consider that they may not work and a Plan B will be necessary.
But the single most inappropriate decision by this lady was to have a gun at all. A statement she made clearly indicates a firearm is not an appropriate tool for her to own.
And now I have to be the judge and jury and god for him? That’s not fair.
There’s nothing wrong with deciding you are not able to take another person’s life. We all have unique moral principles that guide us. This is why I never proselytize about gun ownership. Having a firearm for protection purposes is a deeply personal decision of the same magnitude as deciding to lose one’s virginity, get married, or have a child. However, someone who cannot bear the thought of taking another’s life in self-defense should not have a firearm as a protection tool. Pepper spray, a Taser, or some other alternative would be indicated.
Eventually, the authorities decided that the woman will not face any charges.
“She feared for her safety,” Deputy Police Chief Christopher Corbett said. “She fired a warning shot into the dirt.”
That warning shot was a reasonable thing to do given the circumstances, Corbett said.
“Every situation is unique,” the deputy chief said. “If you fear for your life, or if you fear for someone else’s life, you can use reasonable force to defend yourself.”
A consideration is that a warning shot may be no more legally justifiable than actually shooting someone. Gunowners do sometimes face criminal charges for firing warning shots.
This incident show a number of nuances to the decision process that we as gunowners should consider ahead of time. Although things worked out in this particular case, it had the potential to turn into a Negative Outcome in a number of ways.