One of the most frustrating things I see time and time again on the interwebs is irresponsible flippancy on the part of some armed citizens toward the concept of using deadly force. It usually comes in the form of chest-thumping bravado in regard to potentially taking a human life over a piece of property when the individual’s life is not actually in jeopardy. Being that I live in the great state of Texas, the level of machismo and “make my day” type attitudes are probably elevated above most of the rest of the nation because of our rich history of ass-kicking. This is understandable, but it is something that I have personally had to dial back as part of growing more mature and responsible as an armed citizen. I believe that social media and it’s relative anonymity exacerbates the problem exponentially as people will often times post things online that they would never actually say or do in the real world. That being said, the issue needs to be dealt with as it not only gives the anti’s more ammunition for stereotyping our community, it also could lead to serious, sometimes deadly consequences for individuals who carry this flippant attitude about killing into a real life shooting situation.
Carrying a firearm for personal defense is simply that: carrying a firearm to defend one’s person from potential loss of life. To be frank and concise: firearms are for the defense of life, not stuff. Living by this simple rule of thumb will help armed citizens avoid a lot of less than stellar choices. I can think of nothing that I own that I would risk my life to defend if I had another option that would keep me safer than shooting someone. There are obviously going to be situations where you are forced to shoot someone in a “home defense” scenario but all of those situations should only occur because your life was put in jeopardy by the bad guy, and not the other way around.
My friend and mentor Rob Pincus, author of the recent book “Defend Yourself” outlines 3 basic principles for self-defense inside the home: Evade, Barricade, Respond. To Evade means to get as far away from the bad guy as you can. If you can escape the home and totally avoid an armed confrontation, you should do that. If that is not an option, you want to have a plan to Barricade yourself by putting things between you and the bad guy inside of your home that make it harder for him to get to where you are and hurt you, such as a locked door, a dresser, etc. If you can Evade or Barricade, you can buy yourself some time to get on the phone with the police and get them in route to deal with the bad guy. To Respond with a firearm and use deadly force would only become an option if you could not Evade or Barricade, if you encounter the bad guy while attempting to do either of those two things, or if they defeat your barricade. At that point, you would be forced to defend yourself as opposed to just defending your property. I strongly believe that this is the appropriate way to approach “home defense” and that it will keep you from making very costly mistakes. As an example to the contrary: it would never be wise to investigate a “bump in the night” by arming yourself and moving toward it. The best case scenario would be that you end up pointing a gun at someone who isn’t a threat (like this guy) or at worst you have put yourself in a fight that you may in fact lose when you potentially could have avoided it altogether.
Keeping in mind that it is really not your property that you ought to be interested in defending with deadly force, there are all sorts of situations where taking property may be the goal of the bad guy but in doing so they put you in fear for your life. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you just allow someone to carjack you or rob you at an ATM. In those situations, as in “home defense”, the property is incidental and is not the catalyst for the need to use deadly force. A bad decision would be (as was commented recently on a Facebook page I frequent) to shoot someone that you “catch” breaking into your car/home/office. In that situation, your life is not in danger until you consciously decide to make contact with the other individual. I could cite countless cases where putting oneself in danger in order to defend a piece of property has worked out poorly for the individual involved in the form of expensive and drawn out legal processes to jail time. Don’t be that guy.
To dig just a little bit deeper into the attitude that drives these poor decisions, we need to talk a little bit about what it really means to take a human life. I believe that every armed citizen should read Dave Grossman’s book “On Killing”. In this book, he details the deep aversion that we as well-adjusted human beings have to taking another human’s life. This aversion, even if overcome in the moment, is something that manifests itself in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among other things for those who have been forced to take human lives. You may in fact have the ability to kill someone in the moment, but the effects of doing so even in a situation that warrants it can have far-reaching effects on your mental state for the rest of your life. Guys I know who took human lives while in combat with the scourge of the planet in Iraq and Afghanistan still often have to be very deliberate in learning to deal with the mental realities of having killed another human, even though that human was a terrorist! Consider that reality and then think about whether it is a good idea to potentially kill someone who you catch trying to steal your GPS or steal some copper off of your work truck. There is truly no piece of property that is worth potentially killing someone over. If you think there is, you clearly don’t understand what killing is about. This isn’t a movie, and you are not Dirty Harry. Killing is serious stuff that even professionals aren’t excited about doing.
The psychological effect that carrying a gun ought to actually have on you is one of non-confrontation and conflict avoidance. If it doesn’t, then you clearly don’t understand the responsibility you have taken on every time you holster up and walk out the door. Going out and looking for trouble will usually lead you to trouble and when you find it, though you may win your fight, you may lose your life to psychological issues at best or jail at worst. Being an armed citizen ought to be a bit of a paradox: you ought to care so much about the sanctity of human life that you will defend your life and the lives of those you love by taking another’s if necessary. It all revolves around life and respect for it. So don’t be flippant about the idea of using deadly force, because human life is indeed precious; which is why you bought that gun in the first place. If that wasn’t your reason, then you did it wrong and you need to check yourself before you do something stupid and bring harm to yourself and the gun-owning community as a whole.