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Some things are just kismet. Like Tamara Keel posting this blog this morning after my husband and I had just spent a couple of hours talking about the issue. The blog is about safety and people thinking of it as binary. You are either safe or you are not. There’s either risk of injury or no risk of injury. The truth–like with many other things–is somewhere in the middle. There are “safer” ways to do things, but nothing comes without risk. It’s accepting the risks for what we do that keeps us honest and actually helps mitigate those risks through our preparation for them.
A Good Example of a Bad Example
When I came into guns in my early twenties I thought I was safe. I’d grown up like many others who assume that just because a gun has been unloaded it is therefore safe. I cringe when I look back at the things I used to do with unloaded guns. If you look hard enough you might even find evidence of those things.
Then, someone told me I was being unsafe. I was schooled on the four rules of safe gun handling and I had a decision to make. Did I reject those rules under the impression that I knew better? After all, I’d made it twenty-one years without shooting myself or anyone else. Or did I admit that I was being unsafe and adopt new rules.
A Third Option
The problem here is that most people see this as Tamara suggested, a binary problem–safe or unsafe.
The fact of the matter is I’m not going to shoot myself with an unloaded gun. I know this. You know this. But I run the risk of shooting myself with a gun I think is unloaded. Therefore, it is safer if I don’t point guns at myself.
I changed my practices and I don’t point guns at my own appendages any more.
I do, however, accept the risks that having guns in my home and carrying them around with me is an acceptable risk.
When people say things like, “I’m safe” or “it’s safe.” What they are attempting to convey is that they are in a state of safety and there is no risk. When we accept that there is always a risk by the nature of the activity we are participating in (in our case, gun play) we stop deluding ourselves and start protecting ourselves through safer practices.
Ten years ago I was newlywed woman working a pretty awesome job at an education center managing a science and mathematics testing database and spending hundreds of thousands of tax-payers dollars in regards to continued education for teachers and curriculum for the great state of Pennsylvania. I had just finished writing my first (and to date, only) novel and I was seriously considering pursuing a career as a secondary mathematics teacher. I showed promise to that end and had people who were encouraging me to follow that direction.
I carried a gun but I didn’t work in firearms and really never intended to do so. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my future but, to date, the most I’d done with a gun was go to the range and shoot. I hadn’t even taken any official classes (PA did not have a training requirement to carry) and had been carrying for less than a year.
I was, and still am, a logical person. I knew that getting a gun for self-defense did not mean that I was suddenly a master and I determined I would only carry it if I got professional training, continued to get training, practiced regularly and was given the freedom to purchase my own gun.
Having purchased my own gun, with my first class scheduled, I found myself taking frequent trips to an indoor range to practice. They had a lady’s night where the range fee was waived for women and because my husband traveled frequently in our early marriage there wasn’t much to do with my time but wander the local grocery store looking for oddball cheese (I love cheese) go to the movies or go shoot. I had to conquer my fear of going to the range by myself, but after that was done I was off to the range every week by myself.
The staff there was respectful, knowledgeable and kind and I enjoyed talking to and learning from all of them. I enjoyed engaging in conversation with them and got to know all of them, well.
One of the managers was a skinny, young guy named Stanley Fanelli. And on a particular night on my way out of the range he asked me a question that changed the course of my future.
“Do you want a job?”
I didn’t want a job. I didn’t need a job. I was making more money part-time with more flexibility and benefits than a many make full time.
I was happy and I was woefully under-qualified for the job. My firearms experience was limited to weekly range sessions with no real instruction. My only credential was my carry permit. I struggled with my shooting and outside of the 1911 knew almost nothing about guns.
I told him as much and his response was, “Don’t worry about that. If you’re willing to learn, we’ll teach you. But you’re here all the time and seem to have a passion for it and we could use a woman like you.”
So I took home an application, filled it out and took it back to the range with me a few days later. I got free range time for myself and my husband, free targets and a few boxes of free ammo as long as I was shooting rental guns. And I got paid hourly to do it. There was no downside.
From day one, I loved that job. Because I was still working in education during the day I was limited to working evenings and weekends at the gun store and range which meant a lot of dealing with customers. Any free time we had usually started with Stan asking, “Hey, do you want to learn something?”
My answer was always, “Yes!”
He taught me how to mount a scope and about checking the timing on a revolver. He taught me how to take apart almost every gun on the shelves and gave me hours on range duty so that I could watch shooters and clean range guns–a valuable time to learn about how the innards of many handguns functioned. Any used firearm that was bought was tested and he allowed me to do the test firing. When it was particularly dead he would allow me to duck into the range for a little trigger time and gave me pointers when I came out as did the other instructors on staff. Stan was also deliberate in making sure I was present for any and all learning experiences with all manner of firearms. He was also the first person who suggested I go on to get some sort of instructor credentials.
Eventually, he asked me if I would be willing to go full time.
Long story made short, I left the path of education, dived head first into guns and training and never really looked back. There have been some distractions through the years, particularly when the babies started coming along but no matter what I do or get interested in I always find myself coming back to guns and self defense. The work is challenging, fun and meaningful, the people are great and toys are cool. And I owe a majority of my little part of it to Stan.
I was fortunate to run across a man who was willing to take me on as his project but knowledgeable enough not to fill my head with crap information, secure enough in his own ego not to try to make me his fan girl and encouraging enough to remind me there was nothing I couldn’t do if I was willing to learn and work hard.
If the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step Stan was the person who asked me to start moving my feet. Thank you, Stan. I’m still traveling.
If you could put my blog into a category it would be “self defense.”
To me, however, it’s a little more than that. It’s my story–my unique journey. If others can glean a little from my experiences and thoughts I’m honored, if not, it’s no big deal. There have been times, however, when I’ve purposely withheld parts of this journey from my readers because I wasn’t sure how what I had to say would be received. Or I may not have been ready to put it out into the virtual void. This is one of those times.
I’ve been hanging on to this post for almost two years and it feels like a good time to get it off my chest.
I want to tell you about my biggest “break-through” year in self defense. It was a year I learned more about how to defend myself, increased my confidence, improved my overall skills and expanded my horizons. I learned how to manage fear and angst and to trust my instincts. I learned how to manage medical emergencies, have fun and express myself in many other ways. This was one of the best years of my life.
It was the year I put my gun away.
My journey, my work, my goals have all been a means to build confidence in myself, not a tool. I chose a tool to aide in my journey, not to define it. I sought to be well-trained with a tool, not ruled by it. Guns, to me, are tools to master in a long list of other tools to master (including my sewing machine).
I have always wanted real self-defense solutions, not crutches or bandaids, platitudes or false security. So when I felt my gun was becoming a crutch I decided it was time to get rid of it–or, at least put it away for awhile.
I want to tell you about why I felt compelled to put it down and why I picked it up again and why I always knew it would find a place on my belt again, when I was ready.
While my husband and I were packing for a much-needed vacation to a place without reciprocity I felt nervous at the prospect of having to leave my gun behind. I started thinking about all the “what if” situations and wanting my gun.
I hated the feeling.
It exposed everything I’d wanted to avoid about carrying a gun in the first place. It exposed my weaknesses and my fears, my shortcomings and false security. I showed me I wasn’t confident that I could protect myself without my gun. I was using that gun as a means to “feel” safer, but that didn’t make me safer. It was becoming a cliche I wanted to avoid.
I honestly evaluated myself and decided it was time to rip off that bandaid, throw out the crutch and walk on my own.
I left on that trip without a gun and left it off for a year.
I still wrote about guns. I still attended firearms training. I competed in pistol matches. I just stopped carrying my gun with me in public. Almost no one but my husband knew I’d stopped carrying.
The experience wasn’t all that dramatic. I mean, really, millions of people don’t carry guns. They survive. I won’t pretend to tell you it was some eye-opening, melodramatic test of my ability to stoically face life unarmed. If I tried that crap I hope someone close to me would throw my slippers at me.
The truth is, life went on. And it went on very well.
I started EMT school and built a custom salt-water aquarium (complete with a kick-ass sump). I was raising two kids and taking Krav Maga. I started lifting weights. My husband and I took time to focus on our marriage and took something wonderful and made it amazing. I started reading more and enjoyed my family. I felt the healthiest and happiest I’d probably ever felt and I did it all without a gun.
I didn’t close my eyes to the realities of the world. I understood the risks of crime as much as I ever did. Instead of potentially ignoring those risks because, “Well, I have a gun,” instead, I worked on developing the awareness, confidence and other skills I felt would be effective in defending myself. I wrote a lot about those things at the time, too, and how I felt about them.
EMT school and training taught me a lot about chaos management and built a huge amount of confidence in myself and my abilities to take care of myself and others under stress. New hobbies and interests kept me, me–always expanding and learning and wanting to experience new wonders of the world. Krav gave me more confidence and fewer feelings of being intimidated in general (an easy thing to feel when you are my size). Lifting simply made me feel stronger and healthier.
I stopped attributing unrealistic expectations on my firearm and found confidence, skill and enjoyment from living my life. Fear, enjoyment, preparedness, skill were found in myself, not in what I had on my belt.
I felt great about myself and how I’d grown.
And the day came to get my gun out of the safe, again.
Once again, I won’t let you believe this was some sort of dramatic, ominous or otherwise emotional affair. It happened with all of the fanfare of someone putting a piece of toast into a toaster oven. There was no foreboding music or deep sigh for effect. It wasn’t some set date on a calendar or due to meeting some arbitrary goal. I didn’t feel threatened.
I simply felt ready, again.
I went to the safe, took out my Glock, checked it over, wiped it down, loaded it and put it on my belt.
And life stayed exactly the same. Better. Richer. Fuller. Happier. And, now, armed. Not because of the gun but in spite of it.
Why did I pick it back up again? After all, I made it a whole year without being mauled by bears or violently raped in a cellar.
I armed myself again because despite everything–the additional training, the confidence, the skills, techniques, knowledge and health–I am, above all, a realist. The reality is I’m still the primary individual responsible for my own safety and the safety of my children and a gun fills a self-defense void that cannot be filled with any other tool or technique in certain circumstances.
It’s compact, lightweight, can be carried with you, concealed and deployed in an instant. It fires projectiles that have the capacity to stop even the most determined of attackers at a vast variety of distances. It’s capacity to continue doing the above is only as limited as your ammo supply which is relatively cheap and also compact. It’s an affordable, available defensive system that is effective and accessible.
It has a viable place in self defense provided it is used within the constraints of skill, the law and with respect to its limitations.
If there’s a downside it’s that it requires skill and understanding to use effectively and many people mistake merely having a firearm for the both skill and understanding. That delusion can be devastating.
It’s been a few years of carrying regularly again and I’m happy to say that my firearm remains put in it’s place, not only on my belt but also in my mind and emotions.
I enjoy firearms. I enjoy shooting them, training with them and competing with them. I don’t particularly enjoy carrying them but the gun and holster choices I’ve made have made carrying them an easy addition to my daily life. They have a legitimate and powerful roll to play in self defense and so I carry them. If I ever feel that balance getting skewed again or something better than a firearm comes unto life’s scene I will put my guns away again.
Whether I was right or wrong in putting my gun away, I don’t know. It’s simply my journey. It’s something I felt was important for me and my life. I felt it was necessary for me to get rid of the distraction to my personal growth and that my firearm was that distraction. I did what was necessary and therefore it felt right to me.
It felt just as right to start carrying again.
If there’s something to take away from this story, maybe it’s to be honest with yourself. Perform a self evaluation, honestly admit what roll your firearm in playing in your life and defense and whether or not you have the skill and understanding and mindset required to carry a firearm on a daily basis. Make adjustments accordingly.
What role is your gun playing in your life?
Of late my focus has been on family issues with kids and self defense. So it may come as a shock to some that I’m going to take a hard left turn for a moment and talk about something a little awkward, maybe a little messy and far less straight and narrow.
Sex and self defense.
Yup! We’re going there.
News flash, for those of you who might be new to the blog: I’m a rape and sexual abuse survivor. This year was twelve years since my last rape. There were times before that. There was other sexual abuse before that. Many times. By many different men.
To say that I had a messed up sexual beginning would be an understatement. The decisions I made to get into some of the most abusive relationships of my life sprang from a viscous cycle of abuse, feelings of my self-worth being directly related to my sexuality, low self-esteem, fear, confusion over what I wanted vs what others wanted and the inability to stand up for myself.
From a very early age I learned that, “no” meant nothing to some people and it seemed to go a lot quicker and quieter if a victim simply consented to being a victim. I stopped trying to tell people no.
That mindset kept me a victim for the majority of my childhood up through middle school and high school. It kept me spiraling down a black hole of abuse, bouncing off a debris of twisted men until I landed on the bottom and into the arms of someone who wasn’t content with my placid indifference to him.
It wasn’t enough for him to just have me. He needed to hurt me. And he hurt me very badly.
It’s hard to describe a life-changing moment. The images of light bulbs turning on or windows opening doesn’t seem to do it justice. Not when you’re lying in a bed, covered in bruises and staring at a sky you never thought you’d see again. When you’re thankful to be alive in a very raw, real and literal way. But also knowing that it was your life decisions (or lack thereof) that put you in that place.
No, it wasn’t my fault I was raped. I didn’t make him beat me. I didn’t ask to be choked. I didn’t want what happened to me and I reject the fault for that, but I set myself up by not avoiding guys like him. I didn’t shut him down when he approached me even though I had zero interest in him in any way. My ambiguity about what I wanted and what I didn’t want and my inability to express those differences left me open to him deciding what direction the relationship would take. And he took it to his garage with a chain around my neck.
Had I shut him down the moment he showed up he would have moved on to another victim. Someone else just like me. But not me.
And then there was that moment.
Looking at the sky I thought I’d never see again, feeling ecstasy at the illusion of the newness of my life, I felt dread at the reality and awareness that if I continued on this road it would absolutely kill me.
The man who raped me wouldn’t be the last. The last wouldn’t be the worst. It might not be the next time or the next man but eventually I would end up with someone who controlled me like he did, someone who abused me and eventually beat me. Instead of letting me go, this person would marry me and just like every other man before him I would be unable to say, “no.” I would be his property and when I was never good enough, never sexy enough, never faithful enough, never sorry enough, he would kill me.
And there it was. The totality of my future in one of the most painful, frightening and beautiful moments of my life. It wasn’t a light bulb. It wasn’t an open window. It was awareness. It was honesty. It was taking responsibility for my role in my life or what would be left of it if I didn’t change.
That was my “no more” moment–my “never again.” The first step on that road was changing myself.
Victim Blaming Or Honesty?
Talking about sexual abuse, rape and victims is a lot like walking a tight rope with a wet cat in each arm in the middle of a hurricane. You are bound to fall and despite your best efforts someone is going to misunderstand your message as victim blaming or perpetuating a rape culture (whatever that means).
One of the most honest conversations we should be having is turning into a sham. A ruse where we confuse between being smart and taking responsibility with blaming and being some sort of rapist sympathizer.
I’m not going to mince words and if you can’t understand what I’m about to say then that is your disconnect, not mine. I do not, in any way, condone rape. I believe the sole individual who is responsible for the actions of rape and sexual abuse is the rapist or the abuser. They should incur the full wrath of the courts, society, media and everything else we can throw at them.
It is never the fault of the victim for being raped or sexually abused. Living a certain lifestyle, wearing a certain type of clothes, drinking, partying, being in a particular relationship does not mean that one deserves to be raped or abused. It does not excuse the animals who take advantage of those people. There should be a special place in hell reserved for people who say things like, “She (or he) deserved it.”
Today, I read an article titled, “Why is Common Sense ‘Blaming the Victim’?” (Please read the link, it’s very good). It asks some pretty reasonable questions about how taking common sense approaches and having common sense discussion about avoiding a violent crime like rape are being misconstrued as victim blaming.
The horror of it all is that, when we shift the conversation from practical means of avoiding a violent crime to the narrative that we should be able to do whatever we want and not have to acknowledge the risks, we set up a bunch of young women for failure.
We tell them there is no personal responsibility for safety even when we expect people to take that responsibility in many other areas of their lives.
Something else the author touched on in his piece was responsibility of taking charge of your sexual desires.
But there’s a troubling psychological reason that young women binge drink: they’re anxious. They’re self-conscious. They’re uncomfortable with the sexual expectations they face (or think they face) in party situations. They expect themselves to participate in sexual activities they may not want to do—or that they can’t admit to themselves that they want to do. Either way, alcohol strips young women of inhibitions that can feel quite inconvenient.
And so they drink so much that they become vulnerable. Unable to assess risk accurately. Unable to intervene in situations when they want to. Unable to say “I want X,” unable to say “I don’t want Y.” These disabilities are the logical climax of deliberately disabling their inhibitions—all so they can cope with their ambivalence, inability to communicate, and self-enforced isolation about sexuality.
If our young women find sex so simultaneously desirable yet unnerving that they have to get semi-conscious to give themselves permission to participate, there’s a serious problem we should be addressing. This is NOT anyone’s license to rape them; being anxious and drinking to cope with anxiety does NOT mean you deserve to be raped.
But a little self-honesty would go a long way here.
The Sexual Survivor
And there it is.
One of the hardest parts of being a sexual survivor was figuring out what kind of sex I liked and what I didn’t. Most of my sexual experiences, positions, discussions, or interaction were introduced to me in my childhood through some form of sexual abuse, forced sexual encounter or rape.
Part of determining to start my life anew was to take that back.
I refused to allow my abuse let me have a lifetime of negative associations with something that was supposed to be one of the most awesome, pleasureful experiences of a human being’s life on earth.
Wiping that slate clean was a lot like trying to wipe permanent market off a white board. No matter how hard you scrub, the residue was still there.. is still there. It never goes away completely but you can clean it up to the point where the real message gets through and you really have to look hard to see the mess behind it.
I was resolute and in that resolution I learned something very important: my taking control over my own sexuality and what I liked and what I didn’t like was the very first step in protecting myself against ever being raped again.
Not knowing what I wanted and didn’t want wasn’t fair to me and it wasn’t fair to anyone I would later be with. It was also far too confusing to try to figure out in the context of who might be abusing or taking advantage of whom.
If I’m sending out all of the “go” signals and have sex but later regret my decision because I did something that maybe I didn’t want to do was I raped? Was I not? What if I want to do it but don’t particularly want to do it with that guy but I want to do it so I do it anyway? Was I raped? Am I taking advantage of him or is he taking advantage of me? Are we both taking advantage of each other?
How could I tell the difference?
I decided the first step was learning and being exceptionally clear about what I wanted and what I didn’t want. Those who were not rapists would respect my wishes. Those who were would not. If I agreed to try something and decided it wasn’t for me a non-rapist would acknowledge that and be okay with the change in schedule. A rapist would not.
It was that simple.
Maybe not easy, but definitely simple.
I had a lot of fun figuring that out. And I’m not ashamed of it. I can’t be. I refuse to be.
I come from a particular upbringing that says I should be. That good girls don’t have unmarried sex and they certainly shouldn’t enjoy it. They certainly don’t write about it!
My ability to be prudish about my sex life seemed to be abruptly altered the first time someone stuck his penis in me while I cried.
I needed to take that back. I did. I am a decisive, sexual survivor. And I’ve never been raped again. My wish is that other women might be able to make those decisions for themselves. That includes if they want to abstain from sex completely.
Does that mean that once women embrace their sexuality we will be free from rape? No. I am not that naive, nor that stupid. There will still be sexual predators in this world waiting to prey on the vulnerable. There will still be shame and guilt. We will still have to teach the next step in this evolution which is avoidance, escape and ultimately physical defense from someone who might try to attack you. But we can definitely start by getting rid of the ambiguity in our own lives.
In The Thing About Holsters I received a comment:
I’m all on board with everything you said except reholstering. If you draw your gun, you drew it because NEED it. Never should there be a moment when you have to quickly reholster. You need to be deliberate and cognizant of your gun, holster and any article of clothing or objects that can wedge their way in front of the trigger especially with the popularity of “safe action triggers” that adorn many of the guns used for self defense. Reholstering quickly, needlessly opens up a relationship between you and a new hole in your body. Putting a gun away = no more threat = no need to ever qickly reholster with your tunnel vision and shaky adrenaline pumped hands.
I find the comment particularly interesting because I only said two things about reholstering in the entire article which were:
Reholstering in that soft-sided holster sure is easy when you’re standing in your bedroom and can take your time to carefully open the mouth with your off-hand with no distractions and nothing else to do. It’s quite a bit different when you’ve just shot someone and have to put your gun away so that you can grab both your kids and move to safety. But your hands are shaking from the adrenaline, you can’t see straight from tunnel vision and you’re scared half to death.
How quickly could you reholster your firearm safely?
I did, indeed, use the “Q” word. That being said, my question was very direct. How quickly could you reholster your firearm safely?
The operative word in that sentence being “safely.”
In the days of old, reholstering quickly was kind of a thing. After a few people put a bullets down their legs trying to beat some sort of speed record some wise people started teaching stopping, looking and then carefully and deliberately holstering our firearms no faster than you can do so safely. This is as it should be. Yet, sometimes this has been interpreted as meaning we shouldn’t reholster at all under stress or that it absolutely cannot be done at a quick pace and safely.
Recently, I attended the Rangemaster Tactical Conference and I attended a block of instruction that was low light force on force incorporating medical scenarios. It was pretty interesting to see what people were doing with their guns after the actual shooting was over. Lots of them kept them out so they could continue to secure the scene but once it was established that shooting was no longer necessary, lots of people put their guns on the ground to start the medical portion of the scenario. Some lost track of them completely, distracted by the new tasks.
What happens if you have to grab a wounded loved one and move? What if someone is coming on scene you don’t know? Do you really want your gun laying on the ground for them to potentially grab?
As I said in the original article. What if you want to get out of there but need both hands to extract children? Where’s the best place for your gun?
When talking about how to avoid getting shot by responding officers in something like an active shooter event, lots of instructors recommend reholstering the gun to get it out of sight but so that it’s still accessible should another event arise.
Just yesterday I was talking to some of my instructor friends on Facebook about some good ways to do one-handed reloads. As one of the instructors commented, “..put it in your gun holder, it’s almost as if they were made to hold guns.”
My point is that your holster is meant to carry your gun. It should be a safe and accessible place to put your gun if you need to put it away long enough to do something else that is also very important. If you need it again it should be just as accessible to draw and then ready to receive the firearm again.
You should be able to repeat this process as often as needed to get the job done. You should be able to do it safely with a relative amount of speed.
Holsters that do not allow a relatively quick and safe reholster are on the bottom end of holsters that I would recommend and I encourage everyone to consider reholstering as part of the process of picking a sufficient every day carry holster.
I know. Comfort. Concealment. Etc.
Again, I get it. If a soft-sided holster that collapses upon the draw and is impossible to reholster in safely and quickly is the only holster you can find that provides the level of comfort and concealment you need then you do what you have to do. There will be times that I will carry in soft-sided holsters under the firm understanding of the drawbacks. There are other techniques to retain your firearm while you perform other tasks that may be better than trying to reholster in soft-sided holster but none of them are as ideal or as safe as reholstering using a rigid holster.
Don’t let reholstering be something you leave off the checklist when considering what kind of holster to buy.
And don’t buy this idea that reholstering never needs or shouldn’t ever be done under stress.
Yes, it absolutely must be done safely but there’s no reason you can’t take your time to be safe and be quick about it.
I looked up the word, “Laboratory” before writing the title of this blog because I was supposed to have attended an “Experiential Learning Laboratory“ last weekend.
It means “a room or building equipped for scientific experiments, research, or teaching, or for the manufacture of drugs or chemicals.”
That word–laboratory–seems a little too nice, neat and clean for how I felt coming out. I felt a little like, “What the ever-living-hell just happened?” with a touch of, “Why am I even trying?” on the side of, “Not too bad, there, chicki-do.”
For the last two years, at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference, Craig Douglas (aka Southnarc) has been conducting these “learning laboratories.” They are blind scenarios that only a few people get chosen to participate in. You’re given a simunitions gun, told a very basic task and then sent into a room filled with people watching you with no idea what’s coming and left to figure out whatever is thrown at you. Last year I didn’t get to attend and getting chosen to attend is a little like being excited to be picked to go in front of a firing squad.But I was picked and headed off into the back hallway to wait.
A few people went in before me but eventually I found myself at the end of the hall putting on a facemask while Craig explained to me that I was in WalMart. I didn’t find what I was looking for and so I was leaving the store. At the end of the room is a chair which represents my vehicle. All I’m supposed to do is get in my car and go.
I remember how badly many of the scenarios went last year. Even though I didn’t get to participate I read the after action reports and was hoping and praying I wouldn’t be on that list of screw ups this year. Craig Douglas had given a speech at the beginning of the class that we should go about the scenario as we believe we really would in real life. No gaming it.
My mantra became, “Just don’t shoot someone who doesn’t need to be shot.”
I’d never done a completely blind scenario like this before. I’d been involved in force on force before quite a few times but it was always pretty clear who the bad guys were and where they were coming from.
I step through the door into a long, narrow room lined with people. They are crammed in everywhere–eager observers who are slightly bummed but also a bit relieved that they weren’t chosen to actually participate in the scenario. Now they get to learn vicariously through you. Any one of them could also be a role player. It was on.
I see the chair and two partial walls representing whatever structures a parking lot might have. I look around and remind myself to be calm while I start walking toward my rolling office chair car.
Out from behind the first obstruction comes a woman holding a doll screaming for help.
I’d attended MUC last year. I knew what to do with these people, right?
I try to tell her to stop right there so I can assess whether or not I want to help her from a distance but, no, there would be none of that. She’s practically on top of me, shoving this doll in my face telling me her baby is choking and she needs help.
Craig had told us to act as we would in real life. I’m an EMT. There’s no way, on this side of hell, I wouldn’t stop for a choking baby. As I reach for the baby to start infant CPR another role player comes barreling through the doors screaming at the woman.
I tell him to get back. I might as well not have been talking. He pushes right past me and hits the woman upside the head.
Now I’m stunned and trying to keep up. I’m telling myself to stay calm but I’m feeling like I’m in a haze. I try to get mom to leave but she’s not going. “Dad” is hitting “Mom” and “Mom” is screaming and my mantra is only, “Don’t shoot the wrong person.” There’s also a lot of, “What about the baby?” going on and somewhere in there I snap out of myself long enough to point to one of the bystanders and yell, “You! Call 911!”
Suddenly, there’s a gun. Holy SHIT! Where did that come from? I wonder.
Mom is pointing it at Dad and screaming that she’s sick of him and his abuse. I think, Good for you. At the same time I’m thinking, GUN!! Get yours!.. No! You’re not in danger, yet. Don’t make it worse by going for a gun… But there’s a gun! And where the hell is the baby? What should you do? What should you do? What should you do?”
There’s Mom again, in my face, shoving baby in my arms asking me for help. Ahh, choking baby. Something I know what to do with!”
Hey, we’re in a pretty good place. No one is shot. I have baby. Mom has abusive dad at gunpoint. No one is threatening me. Things are looking up.
I tell Mom to, “Just go,” as though someone in this scenario might actually start listening to me.
Dad is getting more belligerent. The fighting is escalating and I have a brief, Can I leave? thought.
I felt compelled to stay. I cannot tell you why. Then, I’m up against the wall with Mom and Dad is screaming and I’m screaming at her to “LEAVE! LEAVE!”
Dad is yelling at me to give him his baby. Mom is freaking out and Dad yells, “GIVE ME THAT GUN!”
That little voice whispers in my ear, “If he gets that gun, you’re getting shot.”
He grabs the gun from Mom and starts to swing it at me while I draw mine. I put three rounds into his chest and one into his head while moving behind and around cover.
I suddenly realize I still have baby in my arms and I’m holding baby in a perfect isosceles shooting stance. I pull baby back to my chest and Mom flips!
“YOU SHOT MY HUSBAND, YOU BITCH!”
Are you fucking kidding me?!
Mom shoves me and rips baby out of my arms while I’m screaming at her to get back. I’m feeling anger that I stayed to try to help her and immediately prepare myself to shoot her if I see her pick up dads gun. I have gun on her and I’m kind of feeling like I got kicked in the gut.
And Craig ends the scenario.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Craig asks me to tell him what happened.
To hell if I know! I think.
I’m thinking that everything they tell us about managing people is complete bullshit! I’m thinking I really wished I hadn’t raised my hand to volunteer for the class. I’m also thinking, Well, baby has choked to death by now. And, That’s not on you. And Hey, it’s okay. You didn’t get shot!
I’m trying to think about what just happened and all I’m remembering is a blur of activity and broad generalizations like, “Mom with baby,” “Angry man,” “Gun,” “Fighting,” “Baby in arms,” “Dad grabs gun, points it at me,” “I shoot Dad,” “Mom turns on me.”
I start to describe the progress of the scenario and say, “I tried to stay out of it.”
“Did you?” Craig asks. “Looks like you were pretty ‘in it’ to me.”
I remember injecting myself between the two of them, pushing the Dad back and concede, “Well, okay. Yeah.”
“Did you have your finger on the trigger while you were dealing with Mom after you shot Dad?”
I have no idea. The finer details are completely lost.
Why couldn’t I remember? Why couldn’t I recall where I was when I fired my shots or with certainty how many shots I fired? I thought it was four but it could have been three? Five? When did I tell the bystander to call 911? Before the gun came out or after? How did we progress from the front of the room to the back? Why couldn’t I remember?
“What did you feel you did right?”
This surprises me because I’m feeling a little like I just got run through a washing machine. I feel like I failed the baby. I feel like I failed the Mom. I feel bad I shot the Dad. I just feel awful.
I felt I did good in having someone call 911. That’s about all I can think of at the time.
I ask if I did anything right. Craig doesn’t answer me. At least not with anything definitive I can take away.
He asks if anyone in the room has any questions for me and someone asks me how I felt about the disparity of force between myself and the Dad and what I would have done had he hit me.
I shrugged. I didn’t feel like my life was in danger until he got the gun. Until that moment his rage was not focused on me and I was willing to wait that out for better or worse.
I remembered being mad at Dad for hitting Mom but then I was wondering if I was REALLY mad at Dad during the scenario or remembering the scenario made me mad. I’m confused.
I was thanked for my participation and I sat down feeling like I’d lost. The gal to me said, “You did an AMAZING job!”
I watched two more participants run their scenarios. Both scenarios ended in a variation of themselves, mom, dad and baby getting shot.
I left the room to think.
“You didn’t get shot.”
“I know, but I didn’t save anyone, either.”
“That’s not your fault. You tried.”
“I should have left when I had the baby.”
“Yep. But you still survived.”
“But baby would have probably died. If I left I could have saved him.”
“Yep. But that baby wasn’t your responsibility. If they cared about that baby they would have set aside their differences long enough to get help or save him themselves. You did what you could with what you had to deal with.”
I found the self-justification for my actions to be quite interesting, recognizing my mind building the constructs that would protect my psyche from feeling too bad about itself.
“You didn’t do it all right but you didn’t do it wrong, either. You didn’t get shot! You didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t your fault you didn’t think to leave. You were trying to help. You didn’t shoot mom. You only shot the guy who was going to shoot you. Call that a win.”
One hell of a win.
Between feeling okay about my actions I still beat myself up for not leaving with the baby when I had the chance. Why did I stay? If given the exact same scenario verbally that’s exactly what I would have said I would have done. When I gave the scenario to my mother that’s exactly what she said she would have done. Everyone else I’ve talked to have said the same thing, “I would have left with the baby.”
Why did I stay?
I wish I could answer that question. I also wish I knew how to stop feeling like it’s all this training is worthless if you can’t think. I couldn’t think. At least not about solutions. I could only react to what was happening. I’ll take that over freezing but looking back on it, what’s the difference between freezing and reacting vs acting?
Yeah, when it came time to shoot someone it all went very smoothly. An observer later told me that when the gun came out the first thing she thought was, “This woman can shoot!”
Gun came out. Front sight came over bad guy. I stepped to the side and worked around cover while I shot him three times in the chest and once in the face. That part was easy. Except I forgot that I was holding a child and now “full-iso-baby” is a thing.
But that’s not why I’m doing this. I’m not training my ass off so I’m good at shooting people. I’m training my ass off so I can think! And if I can’t think under that kind of stress than what the hell am I doing this for?!
Another participant took video of my scenario and was gracious enough to send it to me. I’ve watched it probably thirty times. I, honestly, would have no problem with any jury in the world seeing that video. I’m not the aggressor. I was pulled into a bad situation. I was not quick to the trigger. I asked bystanders to call for help and even admonished the mother to leave while she had control of the situation. I shot only when forced to save my own life. Legally, I think I’m covered.
At the same time I’m amazed at how my perception of what happened was so radically different than what actually happened. I thought I was staying out of it. While I was at first, to an extend, I was also very “in” it as Craig had said. I thought I was yelling the whole time. I wasn’t. You can hear me speaking a total of, perhaps, three times. I thought mom had been carrying the gun. She wasn’t. Dad had been open carrying the gun the whole time and Mom took it off of him. I never saw the gun even though he turned his gun side toward me several times. I thought I took all four shots from the left side of cover. In reality I took two shots, moved behind cover, came out the other side and shot twice more.
The acknowledgement that my memory could be so compromised was alarming.
Usually, when I find a deficiency I start looking for the training equivalent to fill that gap. Where’s the training for “think faster?”
Yeah, this all sounds a little “Debby Downer.”
It’s not. Not really.
I won. I went home with no extra holes and vindicated. I also went home with the assurance that I did better than others and as snarky as that sounds there is always that little part of you that celebrates, “Well, you screwed up, but at least you didn’t screw up as bad as that guy!” Most importantly; IT WASN’T REAL!! I got to learn and gauge myself in a safe environment that lets me evaluate myself without the consequences of death. There is real solace in that.
Thank you, psyche, for protecting itself.
Now to find out how to fill that gap.