In Defense of Self-Defense, part II

This started as a comment in response to Stephen’s post, but I decided it was big enough to warrant its own post. In the comment section to the afore mentioned post, there’s a discussion going on about exactly what, if anything, the VT students could have done to act in their own self defense.

First, I’d like to say that I feel that Stephen is right on about being bombarded with anti self-defense messages, ranging from being taught to “turn the other cheek” in preschool to the advice we get from law enforcement to simply give muggers and carjackers whatever they want. A lot of people in this country lack the capacity for any kind of violence, even in self defense.

That said, here’s a few thoughts I have on the matter…

The first thing is that the shock factor is the biggest one thing to overcome in a situation like this. The only way to overcome that is to think about it ahead of time. Run through scenarios in your head, always be prepared to take action…sort of what I described here.

As for options, I’ll simply discuss non-carrying options, because I think introducing a carrying student into the scenario simplifies things considerably. In any case, I was thinking about this in my night class tonight. It takes place in a relatively small classroom (20-30 people) in an engineering building with long straight hallways.

First, a caveat…the following makes the assumption that it would be, at most, one or two people acting at once. The likelihood of several people taking action is, at this point in time, highly unlikely due to the culture of non-violence that Stephen discussed.

If all the gunman does is stick his head in a room, shoots through one or two magazines, and then leaves, your only realistic option would be to wait for a mag change and then be prepared to close the distance between you and him quickly, preferebly throwing stuff, making noise, trying to appear as aggressive as possible. However, as tarran points out, if he is managing his ammunition and mag changes appropriately, the opportunity for this would be so slim as to be impossible.

If he does enter the classroom, your options improve slightly, as it gives you more angles at which to approach the gunman and a shorter distance to cover. However, the advantage is still definitely with the shooter.

The only way the advantage lies with the unarmed student(s) is if you are alert enough to realize that a shooting is going on prior to the gunman entering the room and you barricade the door. If the gunman does somehow manage to get through the barricade, 2-3 people (at least) should be waiting beside the door ready to jump him when he comes through. In this case the unarmed students have both surprise and numbers on their side.

Now, if we move out of a classroom and into a lecture hall, but still assume a very small number of people will be reacting offensively to the shooting (2 or 3 at most), the options improve slightly again for the unarmed student(s) but are still not good. Once the shooting starts most people will engage their flight response. You can use that to your advantage by staying with the crowd as long as possible before breaking out to attack the shooter. Once you break out, the above stated actions such as throwing objects, yelling, and appearing as aggressive as possible still apply.

The above discussion was all based on the premise that, at most, 2 or 3 people would be reacting aggressively to counter the gunman. This is pretty realistic given the culture of anti self-defense that Stephen discussed in his post. However, what if we were able to change that culture? Would things be any different?

Most definitely. First, we would be a lot more accepting of common sense defense measures to violence such as this. Schools have fire alarm systems, but God forbid we allow armed guards into the school or armed students onto the campus. We have fire drills, why not have intruder drills that actually involve pro-active action instead of turning off the ligths and hiding under desks waiting for someone else to take care of the problem? As Stephen says, establish the mentality that almost anything can be used as a weapon. Teach that if the entire class begins throwing things and charges the shooter, he can’t get you all and in fact is probably going to react with some surprise and alarm to actually see a large group of people fighting back. Most importantly, make people face the fact that, like fire, violence happens. Simply pretending it doesn’t exist is a recipe for disaster. If we get people to face that one fact, it would do more for decreasing crime and increasing overall safety in this country than increasing our police forces ten fold. If a gunman was able to get through our increased precautionary measures, he would face a much more menacing pack instead of a herd.

You’ll notice I left one scenario out of my discussion. I didn’t discuss if/how someone could chase down and ambush the shooter after he has left the immediate area. The reason is that the chances of anyone doing this unarmed are extremely slim. It would take a true sheepdog to undertake action of that magnitude. The likelihood of such an action succeeding is dependent on a lot of things, several of them intangibles, and has moved from simple self-defense to offensive assault. I’d like to say I’d be able to do such a thing, but I don’t think anyone can say until they’re put into that situation.

All we can do is prepare ourselves physically and mentally and hope we never have to face that moment of truth, but be prepared to do so in an instant.

  • Matt

    Thank you for addressing personal defence as a reasonable option, rather than a hoplophilic fantasy.

    Still, technical issues like these only make sense when we’ve decided to defend ourselves. Self defence is, first and foremost, a matter of will: will you fight for your life, or will you lie on the floor and hope for mercy? Once you’ve decided to fight, everything else — awareness, tactics, training, weapons — is just a matter of stacking the deck in your favour. I’ll take any advantage I can get, but it won’t do me any good if I can’t bring myself to use it.

  • Jmarsh

    Be polite, be professional, have a plan to kill everyone you meet.

    Basically. I’ve been out of the Green Machine for a decade, and I still scan streets, convenience stores, grocery stores, parking lots, etc. Most people generally don’t notice I do it. It’s second nature, like flipping on a light switch when you enter a room.

    A lot of self defense is practice and visualization. If you visualize yourself being the anti-victim, aggressive and willing to use anything as a weapon, then you have already formed a sub conscious plan of action in your mind, which you will be much more likely to execute.

    Of course, all of this becomes far easier when you have a firearm on your person. Even then, you still have to do some due diligence. I actually do *more* now that I’m in the regular habit of packing. When a salesman comes to the door during the day and I have my .45 on my belt, you can’t help but be super conscious of how you expose yourself to the possible perp, how close he is to the door, etc.

  • Tom Gellhaus

    One of the many things I like about this webpage are the quotations at the top. Heinlein quotes appear quite frequently, so he has been on my mind more lately. I bet that he is spinning in his grave now (figuratively speaking) at our culture. Over the course of time, it does seem to me (at 42 years old) that we have placed nearly all our trust in “the police” (the STATE) to defend us, even when such trust is proven inadequate or even futile. Heinlein always created characters who were not afraid to defend themselves when attacked, albeit pragmatically (none of the long distance “i’d have done it better” heroics of idiots like Derbyshire).
    You do have do wonder whether the American culture can start to re-embrace the idea of self-defense in the way you speak of so well. There are so many inputs into a teenager’s growing up – parents, movies, school (err..umm..on second thought, govt schools are unlikely to do this), and books, just to name a few. Are there ways on an individual level that we can turn this tragedy towards good, and overcome the passivity and fear of self-defense that our modern American culture seems to have ?

    (As a side note, I don’t understand the relevance the European culture has in discussions about this topic. I have noticed that many right-wing bloggers enjoy putting down the Europeans and saying we have become like them. America isn’t Europe, and the best way out of our cultural passivity has nothing to do with any other nation’s culture. “We can do it regardless of what any other country decides” is my point here.)

  • Stephen Littau

    “However, what if we were able to change that culture? Would things be any different?”

    Mike, I think you did a better job of making the point I was trying to make in my post. The above question is the very question we should be asking. If we had a better self-defense mindset in our culture we would have better odds of defending ourselves.

    How often have we heard the “authorities” tell us to “leave crime fighting up to the professionals”? How often have we heard people who act in an offensive manner toward violent criminals as “vigilantes” who are “taking the law in their own hands”?

    You know something? The law is in our hands–particularly when an individual’s life, liberty, or property is in immanent danger.