July 16, 2013

A firearm is a tool, not a talisman

I was intending to head for bed, but I was troubled that the only news I'd been watching was national news. The Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case leads the board at every national news site today, and I was getting kind of tired of reading about it. There were mentions, almost as sidenotes, of riots in Los Angeles, so I went to the LA Times website to see what was going on. Well, I found something that seemed to me far more important than Trayvon Martin's death and George Zimmerman's acquittal. One of the LA Times columnists experienced a moment of fear when home alone one night so she had wondered if she needed a gun:

LA Times: Will a gun protect a single woman frightened by a bump in the night?

Ms. Banks has approached the question from a perspective that has little to do with the reality of firearms ownership and even less to do with the reality of her situation as a single woman living alone. She wants to feel safe. Not a bad thing, to be sure, but she does not want to take the steps to become genuinely safe. She is looking for a magic talisman of some kind, a single item that when he takes it into her hand will suddenly grant her feelings of invulnerability and power. A firearm is not a magic talisman.

To feel safe a person needs to feel confident that they can come out of a dangerous situation alive. That kind of confidence does not come from owning a firearm, swinging a baseball bat, or marrying a cop. That kind of confidence can only be achieved through study, practice, and discipline. To feel safe you must learn to be safe. To learn to be safe you must give up a few nights on the town, some dates with your favorite lover, and for a short while you must also forgo your favorite television programs or video games. To become confident in your ability to survive you must spend time studying how to survive. Reading books about how other people survive is a very simple, basic starting point. The one lesson you should take away from reading those books is that every survivor becomes a survivor because they possess a very specific skillset and that skillset is backed up by a very particular mindset. You won't achieve either the mindset or the skillset by reading books about survivors.

Survival skills come in a few small, critical sets: keeping warm, keeping fed, keeping hydrated, avoiding hazards. There are many places where you can learn these skills. You can join the local Army or Marine Reserve. They will send you to boot camp and then you will go on regular exercises with your local unit. People who approach these exercises as genuine opportunities to learn and practice new skills will derive a great deal of confidence from participation in these events. People who approach these events as opportunities to dress up, drink, and socialize will derive nothing from these events. If you go this route you will spend as much time fighting peer pressure from the party group as you will learning new skills. Nonetheless, if you can resist that peer pressure there is a world of skills you can spend time mastering, real skills that will greatly enhance both your ability to survive a dangerous situation and your confidence in that ability.

There are hundreds of survivalist schools in America. Open up a web browser, go to your favorite search engine, and type in "survival schools near MYTOWN", with whatever the name of your current town or city of residence is in place of "MYTOWN". Some of these schools will be very expensive, some will be inexpensive, a few might even be free. Most of them will offer a variety of weekend courses and short (5-10 day) courses. Pick a simple course like, "edible wild foods" and take that course at several of the schools near you. This will give you a feel for how each school is organized, what kind of people the instructors are, and how serious they are about teaching real skills. Once you find a survival school you like, take every course they offer.

Martial arts are also a wonderful method for developing both confidence and a real-world skillset that will help you survive a dangerous encounter. Every major city in America, and most of the smaller towns, have martial arts instructors who hold weekly classes in their art. It does not matter which martial art you study. Pick an instructor who is convenient for you to see on a weekly basis and devote yourself to learning that art, no matter what it is. Every martial art has both strengths and weaknesses and the only way to overcome the weaknesses is to spend your life studying every martial art under the sun and then combining the different schools to create your own. While that is a good and worthy goal, it's also a real burden for someone who only needs enough skills to both be able to survive and to feel confident that they can survive. So pick one martial art that is convenient to get to on a weekly basis and stick with it.

Do you see what I'm saying here? I mean, do you really understand it? Confidence only comes through achievement and achievement only comes through dedication. You can be a survivor or you can be a victim, the choice is yours. You are the only limit in your own ability to walk away from confrontations like the one that dark rainy night in Sanford, Florida that ended up with a young man dead from a gunshot wound. In the end, surviving such an encounter is the only thing that really matters. If Trayvon Martin had survived, then the entire debacle and three-ring circus of the trial and verdict would never have happened. Trayvon Martin did not die because he was a black kid in white neighborhood. Trayvon Martin died because he was not as well prepared as George Zimmerman. If Trayvon Martin had been truly focused on survival and not on proving himself better than the "creepy-ass cracker" following him around, he never would have attacked George Zimmerman and never would have been shot. Trayvon Martin had the wrong mindset. Like Sandy Banks, Trayvon Martin had a magical belief in talismans. In Trayvon's case, those talismans were his fists. It amounts to the same kind of thinking, and yes, if you go into a dangerous situation believing in the power of talismans and feeling invulnerable because you possess those talismans, then you will not survive. Survival is not dependent on magical talismans. Survival is dependent on skilled use of survival tools. Skills, and the mindset to properly use those skills, is the key to surviving and to feeling confident in your ability to survive. Your hands can be survival tools, but only after you train your mind, and that training comes from studying survival.

Like a knife, a can of pepper spray, a baseball bat, or a concrete sidewalk, a firearm is a tool. To use this tool effectively you must develop the proper skills. You develop those skills through training and practice. The problem with Sandy Banks walking into a gun store and buying a gun is not the gun itself, but how she perceives the gun. As long as she sees the gun as a magic talisman able to grant her power, invulnerability, and confidence, then the firearm is more of a danger to her than to anyone she encounters. The first step she needs to take is mastering the skills related to firearms. She can do this by locating a firearms instructor. She lives in Los Angeles and in Los Angeles there are thousands of NRA-certified firearms instructors. She needs to search her phone book, the internet, or the NRA website to locate instructors near her and then to take lessons from them. Once she understands firearm safety, firearms use, and the relationship between a firearm and self-defense, then she will have the confidence she is seeking. It will only be after learning how to use a firearm safely and effectively that she will truly gain the safe feeling she desires.

The best approach to gaining that confidence, and from that confidence to begin feeling safe, is to do as many things from this list as you can manage. When studied together, survival skills, martial arts, and firearms skills, will change the way you see the world. Surprisingly, the greatest skill you will acquire is not finding food in a forest, dispatching a mugger with a few kicks, or shooting a potential rapist. The most important skill you will learn is the mindset of a survivor. You will learn how to see trouble before it reaches you and to take steps to avoid that trouble long before you bring any of those other skills into play. If George Zimmerman had been better trained, Trayvon Martin never would have gotten close enough to land the punch that started the fight that ended in his death. If Trayvon Martin had been better trained he never would have thrown that punch to begin with. Neither man was prepared for a genuinely dangerous encounter on a dark rainy night. If either man had been better prepared, the entire incident could have avoided altogether. The key to survival is awareness and that awareness is the product of training.

So if you don't want to wind up dying like Trayvon Martin or carrying a lifetime of guilt like George Zimmerman, go find some place to learn good survival skills. Gaining those skills will bring you both the confidence to survive and the wisdom to avoid trouble in the first place.

July 14, 2013

Why is Trayvon Martin dead?

Trayvon Martin is dead because he attacked George Zimmerman. Period.

The death of anyone in the prime of life is a terrible tragedy. It does not matter if they die as a victim of a crime, from a terrible disease, in combat, or from their own stupidity, the death of a person in the prime of life is always a tragic event that traumatizes everyone who knows them. Even though I never personally knew anyone related to the Martin/Zimmerman incident, I feel a deep sympathy for everyone involved. This was a terrible, preventable tragedy. However, it was not a crime.

As I brought out back in March (Martin, Zimmerman, Gun Control, and the Popular Imagination), this incident was a violent confrontation in the dead of night between two grown men. Calling Trayvon Martin a "child" is deceptive and intentionally misleading. Trayvon Martin was an athletic seventeen year-old. He was a young man in the prime of life. He was not a child. By the same token, George Zimmerman did not escalate the confrontation simply by leaving his truck against the advice of the 911 operator. The point of escalation occurred when Trayvon Martin punched George Zimmerman in the nose. From that point on it was inevitable that one of the two was either going to wind up dead or hospitalized. Because he had a firearm and was able to bring it into play, George Zimmerman walked away and Trayvon Martin wound up dead. It really is that simple.

If we are going to avoid this kind of tragedy in the future than we must face the facts and from the facts derive a realistic lesson. Romanticizing this incident in terms of race, gun control, or civil rights inflates emotions and blinds us to the facts, making it impossible to derive a realistic lesson. As a gun owner, a CCW licensee, and a grown man who carries a gun everywhere the law allows it, I have a lesson to draw from this incident. Young men pumped up on adolescent hormones and looking to find some way to prove themselves to the world at large have a different lesson to draw from this incident. In my case, the lesson is twofold: avoiding confrontation is the first rule of self-defense and when that fails always seek some way to de-escalate a situation before it turns violent. In the case of young men everywhere, the lesson they should be drawing from this incident is do not choose violence when confronted by strangers in the night.

There are really only two ways this incident could have been avoided: George Zimmerman could have stayed in his truck or Trayvon Martin could have walked away from the confrontation when it finally took place. If either man had sought to avoid confrontation the incident would never have taken place. Both men chose to seek out this confrontation and when it finally happened, one of those men chose to respond violently forcing the other to defend himself.

Trayvon Martin is dead because he punched George Zimmerman in the face. When George Zimmerman fell to the ground, he jumped on top of him and began beating him. In the course of that beating he slammed George Zimmerman's head against the ground. As it happened, Zimmerman had fallen in such a way that his head was over a concrete walkway. That concrete walkway became Trayvon Martin's deadly weapon. Either because Martin reached for Zimmerman's firearm or because Zimmerman felt his life was in danger, George Zimmerman then drew his firearm and shot Trayvon Martin. The point of no return came when Trayvon Martin punched George Zimmerman in the face. If anyone is to blame for this tragedy it is the victim, Trayvon Martin. He was the first one to choose violence and he was the first to introduce a deadly weapon. That does not lessen the tragedy, not by a long shot, but if we are to draw realistic lessons from this tragedy then we must face the truth of this tragedy.

This incident was not about racial profiling. Even though both men resorted to bigotry and made false assumptions based on race, that bigotry did not make violence inevitable. Those false assumptions did not cause Trayvon Martin's death. This incident became tragic the moment Trayvon Martin punched George Zimmerman in the nose. I am repeating this over and over again because I cannot emphasize it enough. Of all the many errors that took place in this horrible comedy of errors, that is the one point where a fatal choice was made. George Zimmerman's response was in defense of his own life. Trayvon Martin was not facing a threat to his person or property. He had no realistic reason to resort to violence. The only threat was in his own mind and instead of taking the time to assess that threat, he immediately chose violence. This mistake made his death inevitable. He could have, and should have, explained himself and then simply walked away.

If Trayvon Martin had simply explained himself and then walked away, George Zimmerman would have had no legal, moral, or ethical justification for continuing his pursuit. Had Trayvon Martin simply chosen to avoid violence he would be alive today and no one outside his family and friends would have ever known the confrontation took place.

July 13, 2013

I'm still here and not going anywhere

I have not posted anything in awhile, and have posted very little the past couple of months, but I'm not fading into the virtual sunset just yet. I'm not glued to the television news, nor am I following the three ring circus on CSpan. For about a month and a half now I have been doing everything in my power to avoid the daily news as well as the daily news talk shows. I've been practicing a little guitar, working on background material for a novel on medieval Japan, and prepping a couple short stories for January publication on the Amazon Kindle. After two decades wandering through cyberspace, my real life is fulfilling enough I don't make it out here very often.

But don't be thinking I'm gone. I am lurking in the background reminiscing about the fiery old days of Usenet and very much in awe at how far we have come in such a short period of time. I first got involved in Usenet back in the early '90s because I had no outlet for my writing and no network of writers to compare notes with. Now there are hundreds of paying online magazines, the Amazon Kindle, and countless print-on-demand publishing houses eager to accept manuscripts through e-mail or even as instant messenger attachments. The internet truly has become the ultimate tool for global democratization in an oppressive world where for five millennia petty nobles and corrupt dictators have been able to consolidate small regional powerbases and dominate them completely. Not anymore. Now anyone with access to a mobile phone, internet cafe, or local library can scream their message to the entire world. Global freedom of speech has been secured to such an extent that the latest scientific research is just as easy to access as the most puerile hatred imaginable, often in a variety of forms including audio, video, stills, poster art, poetry, and plain old prose.

It is indeed a Brave New World we live in, but neither George Orwell nor David Brin fully comprehended the degree to which instant communications would change our way of life. William Gibson came the closest and even he missed the target by a long shot.

In short, I am still here and will remain here. Other blogs by other bloggers might come and go with the winds of change but I have decided I will keep this one going as long as Blogspot allows it! I am busy preparing a few items for publication and if all goes according to plan, in January I will launch two novels and half a dozen short stories in the Kindle Store. I probably won't be blogging much between now and then, however. This writing stuff is a whole lot harder than it looks!