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.