Jul 182012

A 71 yr old armed citizen bravely – and successfully stood up to two armed youths.

Last Friday evening, just before 10pm, an ‘internet cafe’ in Ocala, FL was held up by two armed robbers.  One had what appears to be a baseball bat, the other a pistol.  There were about 30 people inside the cafe.

One of the patrons was lawfully carrying a concealed .380 semi-auto pistol (it looks like a Ruger LCP from the video footage).

When the bad guys turned their back on him, he pulled his pistol and started shooting at them, firing between four and six shots as the two would-be robbers turned tail and desperately ran out of the store, twice tripping over themselves in their desperate rush to run away, including a final parting shot out the closing door as the two robbers departed the scene.

Both of the robbers were wounded, and subsequently arrested at a local hospital.

The man is now being hailed as a hero, and won’t be facing any charges.  You can see good video clips from three surveillance cameras on several web pages such as this one here, and you probably should review the video before reading this analysis further.  Here’s a second site which has a different mix of video footage – showing some extra parts but leaving some other parts out, plus mug-shots of the robbers (their race is carefully not mentioned in most accounts), and some extra background to how events unfolded.

Some comments about what 71-year-old Mr Samuel Williams did.

1.  He was very lucky that none of his shots hit anyone (or even anything) else, either in the store or outside on the street.

2.  It is unclear how many times he hit both robbers, and where his shots landed, but as you can see in the video, neither robber was physically impaired by being shot.

This is another reminder that pistols are not imbued with magic properties.  Most times, a single shot will have little effect on the person you are confronting and you should usually not pause to see what happens before continuing your defense.

3.  Almost certainly his first shot or possibly two were justified, but it becomes more difficult to say that the others and in particular his last one or two shots were still justified.

Shooting at fleeing felons who have left the store and are running away as fast as they can is rarely a case where you can claim to be in imminent deadly danger, beside which, shooting out onto a public street massively increases the risk of stray rounds hitting other people or damaging other property.

In particular, one of the two people was armed ‘only’ with a baseball bat and at no time was in an aggressive posture towards Mr Williams.  In some states it would be difficult to suggest this second robber posed a sufficient threat (although for sure a baseball bat can grievously injure), particularly as he almost certainly was in headlong retreat by the time Mr Williams got to shoot him.  If you live in a state that is overwhelmingly anti-self defense and all about ‘offenders rights’ (a nonsense concept but one sadly embraced by some states), this would be a difficult situation to justify.

4.  Mr Williams took a very aggressive approach to defending himself.  He made no use of any cover or concealment.  He was very lucky that the robber with the gun did not shoot back.

Indeed, if you look at the video, you can see the armed robber turns with his gun to point it almost at Mr Williams, but as soon as Mr Williams fires his first shot, the robber loses any thought of fighting and instead starts running away as fast as he can.  Half a second of timing the other way could have seen a very different result, and/or if the bad guy was a more determined assailant, the two of them would have ended up fighting it out with less than 10 ft between them (which incidentally is a typical distance for gunfights to occur).

And – here’s the thing – the bad guy had a buddy.  Mr Williams did not (his wife was in the store too, apparently, but Mr Williams was the only person engaged in confronting the robbers); if he was incapacitated, the ‘game’ would have been over.

On the other hand, Mr Williams displayed an excellent ability to combine movement with shooting.  Most inexperienced shooters end up rooted to the spot.  He did an excellent job of controlling the environment and tactically moving and flushed the bad guys out of the store before they had a chance to regroup and return fire.

The one thing that can most positively impact on your survivability in any gunfight is to keep moving.

5.  Talking about timing, from when the robbers entered the store until their hurried exit spanned a period of only 17 seconds.

The military doctrine of ‘speed and violence of action’ certainly applied in this case.  While we advocate, below, that it is often prudent to quietly sit out and wait and see what happens in such situations, in the hope you won’t need to respond; that is not always the best advice, because the first few seconds of a takeover situation like this are the most fluid, with the two robbers having to somehow focus on 30+ people, spread all around the store.

Mr Williams exploited this to his advantage, by being able to draw his pistol and approach the armed robber unseen; 30 seconds later, with the store more secured by the two robbers, this would have been more difficult to achieve.

6.  One thing Mr Williams did not do – he didn’t reload at the end of the confrontation.

His pistol likely held no more than six or seven rounds, and he probably fired five or six of them.  It needs to be an automatic instinctive reflex, at the apparent end of any confrontation, to reload.  The chances are you won’t have accurately counted the shots you fired, and even if you only fired two or three from a high-capacity magazine, you have no way of knowing what is about to happen next, so give yourself as much benefit as possible by swapping to a more fully loaded magazine.

Oh – one other comment about that.  You do, of course, always carry at least one spare magazine, don’t you?

Analysis and Comments

The good news is that this situation did end with good news.  The good guy won, the bad guys lost.  But we’re troubled by the incident, and don’t think it a good example of an optimum response by an armed citizen.  There could very easily have been a much less positive outcome.

The appropriate response when two robbers burst into a store, one armed with a pistol, depends on many things, including the state you are in at the time, because different states have very different laws on the legal use of deadly force.  It also depends on what you can determine about the gunmen’s state of mind and their declared intentions.

If the robbers merely focus on the cashier at the front, asking him to empty his till, and give no indication whatsoever of any interest in the people in the store at all, you’d be better advised to sit out the confrontation.  You’re not in any immediate danger yourself, you just happen to have the bad fortune to be witnessing a hold-up of someone else, and particularly if you are one of 30 other people, the robbers’ focus on you is at best marginal and diffuse.  Be alert, of course, and ready to defend yourself if the situation deteriorates, but don’t go looking for trouble, because if you go looking for trouble, you run the grave risk of trouble finding you.

It is important to realize that just because you have a concealed weapons permit and happen to be carrying a pistol with you, this does not authorize or obligate you to use your pistol for anything other than essential life-threatening personal protection.  Mr Williams is extraordinarily fortunate not to be facing criminal charges now, and who knows if he might not end up with civil suits being filed against him by the robbers.  He is also extraordinarily fortunate that none of his rounds hit anyone else, or damaged anything valuable.  You shouldn’t automatically assume to have such good luck in any respect.

Apparently in this case, the robbers made clear their intention to rob not just the store but its patrons too (an ‘internet cafe’ in Florida is a polite name for a semi-legal computer gambling facility, apparently, and so there was a reasonable expectation that the customers may have been carrying more cash with them than normal).  This may have been the ‘trigger’ event that caused Mr Williams to feel he needed to actively respond while he still had the possibility of gaining a tactical advantage.


It is difficult to know what type of behavior the two robbers were displaying – whether they were cool, calm and collected, showing a ‘professional’ ability to conduct a businesslike robbery, or if they were wildly unstable and appearing as if they would shoot people for no reason at all.

But their announcement that they intended to rob all the patrons, and of course, their mere presence and their weapons, created sufficient cause for Mr Williams to feel his life was threatened – indeed, the validity of his decision is now being confirmed by the authorities and their decision not to prosecute him.

But this was a decision (by the authorities) which could have gone either way, and in other states, might well have resulted in Mr Williams facing criminal charges – not so much for his first shot or two, but for his last few shots.  There have been other cases where a citizen defending himself was found not guilty of inappropriate use of deadly force for all the shots fired except the last one.

If you do find yourself in a situation where you must use deadly force to protect yourself, don’t let the blood lust take over.  Stop shooting as soon as the threat has been nullified.

Although the distances between Mr Williams and the two robbers were very close, the stress levels were high, the angles were bad, everyone was moving, and the store was full of panicking patrons.  This was a very difficult environment, and he did very well.

Clearly, we all need a high level of training to be able to make the right decisions and then to carry them out appropriately in such situations.

Lastly, it is easy to second-guess someone from the comfort of one’s safe environment, with time to leisurely analyze and consider things that happened in split-seconds of great stress.  Mr Williams did a commendable job from start to finish, and we appreciate his public-spiritedness.

Jun 302012

Gun sales continue to increase every month, and violent crime rates continue to steadily fall.

People who advocate controls on gun ownership generally claim that increased firearms ownership would lead to increased rates of violent crime.  Indeed, that is about the only reason they argue against allowing full free access to firearms – their concern about the misuse of firearms.

The last couple of decades have seen a massive increase in gun ownership, and a massive decrease in firearms related restrictions, primarily in the form of the huge switch from, twenty years ago, nearly every state forbidding concealed (and open) carry of firearms, to the point today where nearly every state allows this.

In 1998, when new legislation required every person buying a firearm to first undergo an instant federal background check, the FBI started tracking statistics for the numbers of background checks being carried out.  While the background checks don’t exactly correspond to actual numbers of new guns being sold each month, there is at least a strong correlation, and so, for the first time, we now have a reasonably accurate way of tracking new gun sales each month.

As you can see from this table here, there has been a steady increase in the rate of new gun sales each month and year since the statistics started to be kept.

It is interesting also to keep in mind that most new guns are not replacing old guns, but rather are adding to the total number of guns ‘out there’.  How long does a gun last before being junked?  Maybe 50 years?  Maybe 100?  We certainly have older guns that we still treasure, and indeed, apart from one gun that has become a ‘project gun’ and has been lying around in parts for some years, we’ve never junked a gun.

So the FBI ‘NICS’ statistics show not only that the total number of guns in the population as a whole are increasing, but also that they are increasing at ever greater rates.  So far in 2012, gun sales (as implied by the NICS statistics) are up 11% on 2011, and the 2011 numbers were, in turn, up 15% on the 2010 figures.

If the gun control advocates are correct, we would have seen a corresponding explosion in violent crime rates over the last some years or decades.

The reality couldn’t be more different.  The FBI has just released their latest annual compilation of violent crime statistics, reporting a 4% reduction in violent crime in 2011 compared to 2010.  Since 1990 – 22 years ago – there have only been two years in which the violent crime rate did not fall, year on year.

Violent crime rates (measured in terms of rates per 100,000 of population) steadily increased from 1960 (the start of the FBI’s modern violent crime database series) through to 1991/2, pretty much in line with the steady increase of more and more gun laws and restrictions.  Violent crime in 1960 was at a level of 161 cases per 100,000 of population, by 1991/2 it had increased nearly five-fold to a level of 758 cases per 100,000 of population.

But an amazing thing happened.  In 1993 the rate dropped, and continued to drop every year subsequently, with only two exceptions.  In 2011, the rate was now down to 384/100,000 – almost exactly half the rate in 1991/2, and the lowest level since 1970.

Is it just a coincidence that rates of violent crime increased to an extraordinary five-fold level in thirty years, at the same time gun control was steadily increased; and then since the rebirth of gun carry freedoms, has already declined by half in a mere 20 years?

It would be interesting to see how the gun control advocates explain this!  We’ll readily concede that many other factors need to be considered as well, but it is certainly persuasive to see the huge swings in violent crime rates and to match them to the massive changes in gun control and ownership trends that have happened in similar time frames.

May 212012

An innocent stranded motorist is suddenly attacked and beaten up by four assailants.

Bad guys are clever, and disguise their evil intent by adopting familiar and ‘safe’ seeming guises.

In this article, we look at the lessons to be learned in one such case, where what seemed like nothing more than a person begging for change ended up as a brutal beating by four youths.

A motorist’s car broke down not far from where he lived, late one night.  He decided the easiest thing to do was to leave the car where it was, in an upscale residential area in Tampa FL, and walk the short distance home.  As a fit soldier enlisted in the Army, the thought of walking a couple of blocks, in a good neighborhood, was no big deal.

Three youths were walking in the same direction, ahead of him.  One of them turned back to the soldier and asked if he could spare a dollar.  The soldier agreed and reached to get a dollar from his wallet.

So far, so good, right?  Nothing too fearsome about that, and if you were that soldier, the chances are you’d be totally relaxed.  The youth had asked you for a dollar, and you had agreed to give it to him; besides which, the youth wasn’t overwhelmingly physically threatening or anything.  Typically we would not be surprised at a protest or complaint if we refused a panhandler, but don’t we sort of think, when we agree to give them the money they ask for, that there is no reason to be concerned any more?

But then, lightning fast, while the soldier was distracted reaching for his wallet, and without any warning, the youth viciously attacked him, knocking him to the ground.  A second youth quickly joins in, and now the soldier on the ground is being kicked by two youths above him.  You don’t have to have studied strategy and tactics in the Army to understand that this is not a good situation.

The third youth comes back diffidently, watches for a while, but when we judges that the soldier is no threat at all, he then joins in too.  Now it is three to one.

And – wait – there’s more!  A fourth person comes running up from behind.  But, bad news for the victim.  This fourth person is coming to join in the fun and starts attacking the soldier too.

At some stage the youths tire of their fun, steal the soldier’s wallet and cell phone, and go on their way.

Here’s a video of the encounter, caught on a neighbor’s security camera. You should look at it primarily to see how quickly the initial encounter goes bad.

What lessons can we learn from this, so as to avoid it happening to us, too?  We suggest there are some important learning opportunities here :

1.  There’s No Such Thing as a Safe Neighborhood

As we’ve said before, we’re not the only ones who commute to work each day.  Bad guys commute too, and many times, the places they choose to work are ‘good/safe’ neighborhoods.

While it is true that some neighborhoods are clearly high-risk right from the get-go, the main factor that defines the safety of an area is not the location itself, but the people around you.  That is the thing you need to key in on.  Which leads to :

2.  Keep Strangers At a Distance

Distance is your friend.  Distance = time = safety.  The more distance between you and an unknown person or persons, the more time you have to judge the situation, to anticipate potential threats, to prepare responses, and to control the situation rather than be controlled by events.

How long would it take you to get your gun out of its concealment location and point it at an attacker?  You need to practice drawing your pistol – not from a nice Kydex range holster on your unobstructed hip, but whatever form of concealment holster you use, and while wearing normal ‘street’ clothes.  Get this process as optimized as possible, and have someone time it.  Whatever that time is, add 1/2 a second (or perhaps even 1 second) to that time as the addition reaction time you’ll need from the point at which you detect a threat needing you to grab your gun and the time at which you start reaching for it.

Now, that final time might be 2 seconds (it almost surely won’t be less), and it might be 3 or even 4 seconds.  Whatever it is, now look at the time from another perspective.  How far can a bad guy sprint in that same time period.  Have your friend time you – or, if he/she is faster than you, you time them for that long a sprint and see how far they get.

Take that distance, add another six or more feet, and that is your danger zone.  Anyone inside that zone can get to you before you can pull your gun and shoot them.

If there are two people, your danger zone expands because you have to assess and shoot two people now, which will take longer.  Three people – more expansion.  And so on.

At the risk of stating the obvious, that danger zone is huge, isn’t it!  You might have thought that the danger zone was 10 ft, or maybe even 20 ft.  But we’ll be you’ve ended up measuring a 30 or even 40 foot danger zone just by this one simple experiment.

Any time someone is within your danger zone, you are vulnerable.  As much as is possible in our often crowded society, you need to keep people outside that zone, and you need to be keyed in on who is inside it and what they are doing.

3.  Take Control of the Situation

Are you the puppet or the puppeteer?  Are you making the bad guy change his plan and react/respond to you, or are you unknowingly responding to him and doing what he wants you to do?

You need to use the distance between you and the possible bad guy to create a series of escalating events that hopefully cause the problem to go away.  However, if these escalating events don’t end the problem, they give you the certainty that the person you are facing is indeed a lethal threat and needs to be stopped.

So, starting from the beginning, if you see someone coming towards you who you have concerns about, simply turn and walk in another direction.  Cross the road.  In some way, do something that means your paths will not know cross.

If it was merely an innocent coincidence that you were on intersecting paths before, then you have solved the problem.  He’ll continue on his way, and you will now be going in a different way, keeping the distance open.  When it is safe, you’ll resume proceeding in the direction you wish to travel in.

But if the other guy now changes his path and continues to close on you, he has clearly signaled to you that this is not an innocent encounter.  He wants to get to you.  Your first mental trip-wire has now been sprung, and an alarm is ringing in your head.

The bad guy is relying on you behaving passively like all other victims.  He is relying on you not wanting to cause a fuss or make a scene, allowing him to get into your danger zone and then it is all too late for you.

But there’s no rule that says you have to do what the bad guy wants.  So if this person continues towards you, in a loud assertive voice tell him to stop :  Stop!  Go Away!  Do Not Come Closer!  Back Off!  Say whatever you want, using short simple words that make your meaning clear.  Hold up your support hand (ie not the hand you’ll hold your pistol with) to visually signal him as well.

Keep moving, yourself, to open up the distance (and of course, keep looking for the bad guy’s friends).

If the bad guy keeps coming, no matter what the reason and no matter what sort of excuse he may offer, he has now triggered your second mental alarm.  And, talking about triggers, now is the time to grab your gun and point in at the probable attacker.  Speak to him again (and keep moving and looking for his partners) :  “Stop or I shoot!  Go Away!”  Say this like you mean it, because you really do mean it.

If he continues towards you, and if you have no other easy option (like running away) you’re probably going to have to shoot.  And think about it

(a)  You changed direction to avoid him, he changed direction to get to you

(b)  You told him to stop, to go away, and he kept coming towards you

(c)  You pointed a gun right at him, and told him if he didn’t back off, you’d shoot him – and still he kept coming towards you.

What would you do if you were the other person, and someone warned you off?  If a person tells you to go away and says they’ll shoot you if you don’t, would you continue to approach them?  Not in a million years would you do that.

Only a person with evil intent would continue to approach a total stranger in such a situation.

You need to understand this, so you have the confidence to shoot if necessary (and of course it is always best to simply run away if you can).  You’ve given the person three chances to back off.  They’ve continued to close the distance each time, and are now within your danger zone.  You just know that when they get right up to you, they’re not going to simply shake you by the hand and wish you a happy day.

And Most Important of All

All of the preceding assumes that you have your pistol with you.  Don’t leave home without it.  Even when you know you’ll only be walking around in a ‘good’ neighborhood.  Even when you’ll only be in your own home neighborhood – you hopefully don’t need your gun to protect you from the next door neighbors, but you might need it if you have commuting criminals who have decided to do their day’s work (or, more likely, their night’s work) on your block.

Whether it is innocent/safe seeming surroundings, or innocent/safe seeming people and encounters, nothing is guaranteed safe.  Always be alert and on your guard, and keep as much distance between yourself and strangers as possible.

Apr 162012

The scene shortly before eight police officers fired more than 90 rounds at a crazy youth.

There’s a lot of valuable experience and skill to be gained from time at the range.  We all need regular range time to maintain our shooting skills, because they are ‘perishable’.  Unlike riding a bike – something you learn once and remember always – if you don’t keep practicing your shooting skills, they fade away.

However, there’s another sort of learning and experience we can, we should, we must gain as well; and this is the knowledge and understanding we can get without ever leaving home and without even touching a firearm.  This learning comes from studying real world events and encounters, and learning the lessons to be gleaned from them.

Here’s an interesting example of a real world encounter, which leads to two important self-defense lessons.

To quickly summarize the situation, a ‘troubled’ Muslim youth with prior convictions who seemed to have some sort of police fixation lead Los Angeles police on a chase around Los Angeles, driving a former police car.  While doing this, he phoned 911 and uttered various threats of violence against the pursuing police, and said that if they drew and pointed their guns at him, he’d do the same to them.

Eventually the strange chase came to an end on the 101 freeway.  The youth jumped out of his car after the police had rammed and immobilized it, and many police in turn rushed out of their cars and towards the youth.  A strange sort of semi chase then occurred across the freeway lanes, with the youth alternating between running away, dancing around, and turning to the police while adopting shooting stances, hands outstretched with some sort of object in them.

It was night, the distances were short, and several of the police were out in the open rather than behind cover.  Add to that the youth’s threats to 911 which had of course been passed on to the pursuing officers, and his past arrests/convictions, so of course, and completely understandably, when the youth did this the police switched from pursuing the youth to defending themselves against what likely was a crazed madman with a gun, about to make good on his threat and shoot at the officers.

It is unclear how many police were present at this point, but at least eight officers fired more than 90 shots at the youth before he collapsed and subsequently died.  The shooting went on for at least ten and probably 15 seconds.  There’s a good video linked at the bottom of this page that provides helicopter filmed coverage of the final parts of the chase and then the fatal encounter after the youth’s car was stopped.

There are two lessons to be gleaned from this scenario.

1.  Number of Shots Fired

We don’t know exactly how many shots were fired, all we know is that the total was more than 90, which of course could be any number greater than this.  We don’t know how many of the shots were fired after the youth collapsed, but it is probable that most of the shots were fired prior to that point.  We also don’t know how many of the rounds hit the youth prior to his collapsing.

If you look at the video you’ll see more or less when the police start shooting, and you’ll notice the youth remains active and seemingly unimpaired, even though on at least a couple of occasions he seems to pause as a result of being hit before then resuming his crazy behavior.

Now put yourself into this picture – not as the crazy youth, of course.  But perhaps imagine that you’re in a situation where some crazy person gives chase to you in your car, perhaps as a result of some imagined discourtesy you exhibited while driving.  Your attacker eventually forces your car off the road, and you are forced to respond to his aggression with lethal force.

How many rounds will you have to fire at him to end his attack on you?

Most of us, when we mentally role play scenarios like this, usually envision shooting two or three or four times maximum.  We also, truth be told, probably cherish a major hope (fantasy?) that the simple presentation and brandishing of our handgun will scare the bad guy away, and as a backup to that first level of optimism, we hope that as soon as we fire a single shot at the bad guy, he’ll surrender or run away.

Let’s think about this.  Do you see any sign of rational behavior or submission/surrender on the part of the youth in this scenario?  And he has at least eight police officers, first all chasing him, then secondly all shooting at him.  He doesn’t at any point surrender or stop.  He stays ‘in the fight’ in his strange way all the way through until being fatally stopped.

We all of us have to plan for worst case, not best case scenarios.  If we want to live our lives based on the hope of exclusively enjoying best case scenarios, we don’t need a gun at all, we don’t need locks on our doors, and so on.  But if we are willing to plan for worst case scenarios, we need to plan all the way, not stop half way.  It is a bit like insuring your house.  You either fully insure it or you don’t insure it at all, but it makes no sense to half insure it.

So, back to the question.  How many shots will it take to stop your own crazy guy/attacker?

Let’s think about one more thing as well.  In the encounter we are talking about, you have at least eight professional trained policemen, who go to work every day in the knowledge they might end up needing to use their weapons, and who practice regularly.  Each of the eight was supported by the rest of the eight, and probably they all had body armor on.  The confrontation was clearly one that they would win, and even if one or two officers had the misfortune to be hit (and as it turned out, the youth had no gun, and so obviously never returned fire) they knew their brother officers would support them, and that paramedics would be on the way there in short order.

This is not to say it wasn’t a high stress situation.  Of course it was.  But as high as the stress level might have been, imagine how much higher your stress would be, as a single person, forced to respond to an unreasoning attack by a crazy person.  You have no backup, no body armor, and have probably never shot at a person before.  Your shooting will be much more panicky and less well controlled than that of the eight (or more) police officers.

So, and here’s the point :  If it takes eight police officers at least 90 shots to get this crazy youth out of the fight, how many shots will it take you in a similar situation?

It would seem reasonable to assume that you would need at least as many shots, but let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and say that you only missed half as many shots as did the LA police officers, and let’s also say that the rounds you did get on target were better placed.  So perhaps you ‘only’ need at least 45 rounds to stop your own crazy attacker from continuing his threat.

Sure, there are cases where the mere sight of a gun will stop an attack, and other cases where a single shot fired will stop an attack.  Sometimes a bad guy will collapse from a ‘lucky’ first shot.  But look at the video again – you are looking at a case where it took eight police officers more than 90 shots to get this guy down.  Don’t reject the evidence in front of you – accept it and incorporate it into your training and your preparedness.

Now for some implications of this calculation.

  • Do you have at least 45 rounds with you at all times?  Sure, you have however many rounds are in your pistol to start with, but how many extra magazines (for semi-autos) or speed loaders (for revolvers) do you also have with you?
  • What say your attacker had a second (or third, possibly even fourth) person with him.  How many rounds would you need to stop two, three or four people?  Do the math – you won’t like the answer.
  • Look at the distances in this encounter.  The crazy guy was never more than one or at the most two seconds from the officers.  So consider this :  You’ve emptied your gun at your attacker, and he’s still pressing the fight.  You need to reload.  How long will it take you to reload?  Clearly you’ve got no more than perhaps 1.5 seconds to get your gun running again.  Can you get your gun reloaded – not on the range where you’re standing calm and still, with spare magazines in pouches on your belt, but in the real world where you’re having to move, to defend yourself, and to retrieve spare magazines from wherever you keep them on your person?

2.  Aftermath of a Justified Use of Deadly Force

The first of the two linked articles does a reasonably good job of reporting on how the dead youth’s relatives instantly make him out to be a saint rather than a sinner, while also providing some rebuttals to the claims of the relatives.

Some of these claims are so ridiculous as to almost be amusing – he didn’t hate police, he wanted to be a police officer himself and was slain by the very people he admired and wanted to join.  He wasn’t pretending to point a gun at the police, he was extending his arms in peaceful prayer.  And so on.

While it could be argued that 90+ rounds was perhaps a few more than needed, watch the video, understand the background, and you’ll agree this was a fully justified use of lethal force.  But not in the minds of the now grieving relatives – and potentially not in the mind of the public at large (who seldom understand the ugly realities of self-defense) and potentially not in the mind of prosecutors and jurors, either.

Every crazy attacker is probably also some mother’s son, maybe some wife’s husband, some children’s father, and so on.  Even the worst of people have friends.  And the certain truth is that if any news media has to choose between a sobbing grieving relative talking about how the loss of her son/husband/father is now destroying her own future life and how ‘he didn’t deserve to die’ on the one hand; and on the other hand to show a happy laughing cheering mother/wife/child rejoicing in how their son/husband/father survived a deadly encounter and was coming home safe, which do you think they’ll feature in their story?

Happy survivors are not news – if anything, they strike a discordant note.  Unhappy grieving ‘victims’ make for good stories and compelling viewing.

Even in the most extreme and justified situations where you have validly used deadly force to defend yourself, you’ll find a lot of negativity focused on you.

In other words, no matter what the situation, any time you can, your best strategy is always to avoid the fight.  To run away, not as a coward, but as a wise person choosing to win the broader battle for the quality of the rest of your life.  The most essential skill to develop is how to avoid fights – how to anticipate and get out of potentially dangerous situations before they become fully dangerous, and how to happily run away rather than stick around.

But if you do run out of options, and have to fight for your safety, make sure you don’t also run out of ammunition!

Apr 062012

It is alarmingly common for bad guys to work in groups rather than alone. You need to plan and prepare for this.

It has been our general experience that most people, when taking training or buying a gun, are doing so to protect themselves against a single attacker.  A lone rapist.  A solo mugger.  An independent burglar.  One crazed drug addict.  You get the picture.

But this is not necessarily the way it will go down, if/when you end up in a deadly confrontation.  You know that if you see one rat somewhere in your house, that usually means there is a whole group of rats making their home in your home.  Rats are social creatures, ‘rats hunt in packs’.

This is true not only of rats.  It is commonly true with bad guys.  They’re also social creatures, and not only do they enjoy each other’s company, many times being a bad guy truly is a two person job.  It makes it easier for them to carry televisions out of a house they are burgling; gives them much more dominance and control if mugging a person on the street, gives them mutual encouragement, protection, and all those other good things.  It even gives them someone to brag to, and someone to confirm their boasting subsequently when telling other acquaintances about what they did.

So, here’s the thing.  If you’ve become aware of one person in a threatening position/demeanor, don’t stop looking and focus in on that single person.  You should anticipate that this person has at least one accomplice, and if you can’t see their accomplice, that doesn’t mean they’re not there; it just means you haven’t found them yet.

This is true on the street, and it is also true in your own home.  This article is being offered to you now in response to this story of a retired former police officer who was taking an afternoon nap in his home in Puyallup.  He woke to find not one, not two, not three, but four intruders in his house, and upon seeing him wake up, one of them rushed at him with a crowbar.

Fortunately, it seems the ex-police officer had read our recent article ‘Where Are You Most Likely to Need a Gun‘.  It isn’t clear where he was having his snooze – perhaps in his favorite comfy chair in his living room – but wherever he was, he had his gun with him, and was able to instantly defend himself.  He fired multiple shots fatally wounding the crowbar wielding attacker, and the other three ran off.

It is relatively unusual to have to fight off four bad guys, but as the article clearly demonstrates, it is not entirely unheard of.

Are you ready to defend yourself against multiple attackers?  There are two things in particular to keep in mind.

First, don’t think the fight is over once you’ve stopped the first attacker.  That’s why we teach you after shooting to physically force yourself to break your locked focus on the bad guy you were fighting – we teach you to ‘look and move’.

This reflexive action both physically reminds you of the need to find other bad guys and also gets you started in doing what you need to do to reduce your exposure (moving) and to help you find other potential attackers (looking).

The Problem With Revolvers

Second, just how effective do you think a revolver with five or six rounds in its cylinder will be against two or three or four attackers?  If we estimate that you’ll miss half the shots you take, and that you’ll need to place three or four shots on an attacker to stop them, go and do the sums.  Each bad guy will need six to eight shots to be taken out of the fight.

You’ve got enough rounds in your revolver for one bad guy – maybe two if you’re lucky.  You know that – and so too do the bad guys.  Everyone ‘knows’ that a revolver has six rounds (there are exceptions to this, both up and down, but the general belief is that a revolver has six shots) and the bad guys can sense when you’ve probably fired off all six rounds just as well as you can, and they also know that reloading a revolver takes time.

Most people will be out of the fight for somewhere between 5 – 10 seconds while they single-mindedly focus on reloading their revolver; and that’s way too long in an open fight with the bad guys on one side of your lounge and you one the other side.

At least with a modern semi-auto, you’ll hopefully have 15 or more rounds in the pistol, so by the time you’ve shot those 15 rounds off, you’ve probably massively changed the dynamics of the encounter in your favor, and instead of taking 5 – 10 seconds of concentrated effort to reload, you can swap magazines in your semi-auto in as little as 1.5 seconds and without taking your eyes off your surroundings.

Better still, you can do a ‘tactical reload’ at an advantageous lull in the gun fight with a semi-auto (also something you should be able to do in under two seconds with a bit of practice), but doing the same sort of thing with a revolver again takes you out of the fight for 5 – 10 seconds.  It is possible to think of situations where you can steal a couple of seconds to swap magazines, but it is hard to think how in an ongoing encounter you’ll be able to safely take yourself and your gun out of the fight for up to 10 seconds.

Don’t get us wrong.  We love revolvers, and most of us have one or two of our own.  But they are never our primary gun of choice in a ‘real’ deadly encounter.  And with sufficient training, it is possible to get stunningly fast at reloading a revolver.  But for ordinary people with ordinary levels of training, forget it.


Bottom line?  Plan in advance to anticipate any encounter as involving multiple bad guys.  Make sure your tactics and your weapons are appropriate for a one on many situation, and most of all, don’t let your guard down at any point in the encounter – just because you can’t see the other bad guy(s) doesn’t mean they’re not there, and just because they are running away right now doesn’t mean they mightn’t regroup around the corner, circle around, and come back at you.

Apr 012012

No matter how extreme the need for self defense, many people will condemn you for doing what you are forced to do

If you haven’t already done so, can we suggest you first read our article ‘Excellent Example of Public Reaction to Justified Shooting part 1‘ then after reading that, come back to this article second.

There is a scary lesson in the way too many ill-informed and un-informed comments posted in response to the account of the homeowner who shot a violent intruder who was hellbent on killing the homeowner.

The scary lesson is simply this :  What say if the homeowner wasn’t so fortunate, and ended up facing a criminal charge?  Or (as he still may) if he faces a civil charge?  What say some of the people on the jury have the same opinions these posters do?

It isn’t really a ‘what say if’ scenario at all.  It is close to a certain fact.  Statistically, there’s much more than a one in 12 chance of getting a juror who implacably hates the use of lethal force even in the most obvious case of necessary self defense.  Read again through the list of complaints that readers posted about this – which ones do you think jurors would have as well?

Some people quite literally and truly believe it is better to allow themselves to be killed than to instead kill a fellow human being.  One can perhaps almost understand this element of self-sacrifice in a one on one situation, but these people usually go further than that and say ‘Yes, and it is better the violent criminal be allowed to kill my children too than I should kill him’.  They add with a triumphant conclusion ‘Nothing can justify taking another human life’.

It is even crazier than this.  When it is pointed out to them that their selective ‘sanctity of human life’ belief has now not only caused them to allow a crazed murder to kill them and their family, but has left the murderer free and enabled, encouraged to murder again and again with impunity, they might start to realize they’ve painted themselves into a bit of a corner, and when one then says ‘So, in other words, your refusal to kill this one man has resulted in the deaths of four or more other people, some of whom rely on you for their protection and safety, and others of whom are total strangers simply relying on a just society to protect them as much as possible’ they will then say something like ‘Well, I still don’t agree with killing anyone’ and change the subject.  They don’t say ‘Oh yes, I see your point – perhaps the lives of four good ordinary innocent productive members of society are worth more than the life of one violent criminal’.

Sadly, there’s no more way you can reason with these people than you can with the violent criminals they’re so determined to protect.

Our point is simply this :  You need to keep in mind that your actions will be judged not just by people of similar values and beliefs as your own, but by people with unfathomably different values.  Apart from a very limited amount of pre-screening, there is little quality control that goes into the make-up of juries (and even less quality control that goes into the make-up of district attorneys and judges – success at politics and winning an elective position does not necessarily correlate with general ability and common sense – just look at most of our elected officials in DC for further evidence of that!).

You need to be able to justify your shooting to people who view a shooting as impossible to justify.  You need to explain why you selfishly took your attacker’s life to someone who believes you should have instead generously sacrificed your own life.

It isn’t only potential jurors you need to explain it to.  How about your friends and colleagues?  Your employer and your customers?  Maybe even your spouse, children, and parents.

And it isn’t only immediately after the event that this will be an issue.  Any time anyone Google searches you or does a background check on you (perhaps a credit check, perhaps an apartment rental background check, perhaps an employment check) the fact that you killed someone is likely to appear.  Your life will change, enormously, unpredictably, but absolutely not for the better, and will stay changed for the rest of your life.

In other words, you need to do everything you can to always avoid any situation where you’ve ended up needing to use lethal force.  Maybe the people who offer to sacrifice themselves have got it half right!  Because the consequences, even of the most righteous acts of self defense, will be appalling.

If you’re not convinced of this, go to part one of this article and then re-read the justifications/excuses from people who thought the intruder shouldn’t have been shot.  The people who posted those comments could be your boss, your future boss, your bank manager, your (formerly) best friend, your church minister, and so on.

Mar 302012

Bear spray is the recommended means of dealing with most bear attacks

I sometimes work in a gun store, and one of the more common stories I hear from people is that they are buying a gun to protect themselves against bears.

Usually, they are buying a handgun rather than a rifle or shotgun, and it is sometimes of a dismayingly low caliber/cartridge power.  The store also has bear spray for sale, but we sell very little of it (even though I recommend it to everyone who says they are buying a gun for bear protection).

Now here’s the thing.  Bears are very difficult to kill at the best of times, and if a bear attacks, you’re going to be massively behind the curve in terms of how much time you have to react and respond.

Don’t plan on running away.  Bears can run at 30 mph.  How fast is that?  To put it in a more meaningful measure, it is 45 ft per second.

In other words, if a bear that is what seems to be a ‘safe’ 100 ft away decides to charge at you, it could be on you in just over 2 seconds.  And there’s the reality to consider :  If you have less than two seconds from sighting a bear to having it on top of you, what can you do in those two seconds?

How long would it take you to access your rifle/shotgun/pistol, possibly chamber a round and/or remove the safety, sight on the bear (which will be a moving target of course), and get a few rounds accurately downrange?  You’re going to have the better part of a second of reaction time, then another second or longer to deploy and make ready your weapon, and only now, with your finger reaching for the trigger at the far end of two seconds are you ready to participate in whatever the bear has in mind.  Meanwhile, the bear has gone from far away to right there in your face.

That’s not to say you could reach a can of bear spray any faster.  And although you’ve probably practiced hundreds (hopefully many thousands) of times at drawing a pistol or pointing your rifle – sometimes as a dry fire exercise and sometimes actually shooting at the end of the presentation; how many times have you practiced taking a can of bear spray off your belt, opening its lid, de-activating its safety, and readying it to spray, and how many times have you actually then gone the rest of the way and sent a stream of spray out there?

One more thing to think about up front.  So you’ve a bear charging towards you.  Let’s say you get lucky and you are reading to start shooting or spraying while the bear is still 50 ft away.  But think about this :  That 50 ft distance takes the bear only about a second to cross.  So within that second, your pistol/rifle/shotgun/spray has to do whatever it can to turn the bear around and change its mind.  That’s a fairly tall order, for sure.

Bears can weigh 500lbs or more (the heaviest black bear weighed in at 900lbs, grizzlies have been recorded at weights of up to 1500lbs).  That’s a lot of momentum barreling towards you – and don’t think about climbing up a tree.  Black bears can easily climb trees, as can young grizzlies, but adult grizzlies generally can’t/don’t.  On the other hand, a full size grizzly can simply reach up 10′ or so – it doesn’t even need to climb the tree to get you if you’ve haven’t reached the upper branches yet.

The good news is that bears seldom attack humans.  On average there are only two fatal bear attacks a year in the US and Canada combined.  Furthermore, the outcome of a bear encounter is largely dependent on your behavior, rather than that of the bear.

Another piece of good news is that not all ‘attacks’ are actually attacks.  A bear can charge at you out of curiosity to see what you do in return, or as a bluff, to try and bully you away.  In such cases the beer may veer off at the last minute and not actually run into you.  However, this really belongs in the category of ‘really useless information’ – what are you going to do if a bear charges at you?  Cross your fingers and hope it is a bluff charge rather than the real thing?

Bears charge at people for a number of different reasons.  According to the Alaska Science Center, the most common reasons are (from most common and then to successively less common reasons) :

  • Surprise
  • Curiosity
  • Invaded personal space (this includes a mother bear protecting her young)
  • Predatory intent
  • Hunting wounded
  • Carcass defense
  • Provoked charge

Wearing some sort of noise-maker can help reduce the element of surprise (on the part of the bear) and being very aware of your surroundings might help reduce the element of surprise (on your part).

But, what should you do if you do encounter a bear, and in particular, what should you do if it does charge you?  This helpful page from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources talks mainly about passive defenses against bears.  Its advice about what to do if you encounter a bear seems sensible, however; it is only when they start to talk about what to do if the bear charges that our disagreement arises.

If you encounter a bear, they say :

  • If you see a bear that is far away or doesn’t see you turn around and go back, or circle far around.  Don’t disturb it.
  • If you see a bear that is close or it does see you STAY CALM.  Attacks are rare.  Bears may approach or stand on their hind legs to get a better look at you.  These are curious, not aggressive, bears.  BE HUMAN.  Stand tall, wave your arms, and speak in a loud and low voice.  DO NOT RUN!  Stand your ground or back away slowly and diagonally.  If the bear follows, STOP.
  • If a bear approaches your campsite aggressively chase it away.  Make noise with pots and pans, throw rocks, and if needed, hit the bear.  Do not let the bear get any food.

So far, so good.  But what if a bear does charge you?

First, let’s see what the AK DNR website says :

  • If a bear is charging almost all charges are “bluff charges”.  DO NOT RUN!  Olympic sprinters cannot outrun a bear and running may trigger an instinctive reaction to “chase”.  Do not try to climb a tree unless it is literally right next to you and you can quickly get at least 30 feet up.  STAND YOUR GROUND.  Wave your arms and speak in a loud low voice.  Many times charging bears have come within a few feet of a person and then veered off at the last second.
  • If you have surprised a bear and are contacted or attacked and making noise or struggling has not discouraged an attack, play dead.  Curl up in a ball with your hands laced behind your neck.  The fetal position protects your vital organs.  Lie still and be silent.  Surprised bears usually stop attacking once you are no longer a threat (i.e. “dead”).
  • If you have been stalked by a bear, a bear is approaching your campsite, or an attack is continuing long after you have ceased struggling, fight back!  Predatory bears are often young bears that can be successfully intimidated or chased away.  Use a stick, rocks or your hands and feet.

Now for our advice.  If a bear charges you, we don’t think you can risk the small chance that this is merely a bluff charge unless you are a bear expert and are willing to bet your life on your understanding.

We do agree you shouldn’t try running away, for both the reasons the DNR puts forward.  This is correct.

But we suggest you do something more than passively wave your arms and speak in a loud low voice.  Urgently start fighting back – start protecting yourself against what could be a lethal bear attack.

Which is Better – Bear Spray or Bullets?

And now we’re at the key part of this article.  Should you spray the bear or shoot the bear?

That depends a little bit on what you’re carrying and how quickly you can deploy it.  If you’ve a large-bore high-powered rifle that is good to go and which you’re sure you could use to land a couple of accurate shots on the bear, that is probably going to do the job, albeit in a very permanent way.

But if you’ve got bear spray dangling from one side of your belt and a pistol of pretty much any ‘normal’ caliber on the other side, we’d recommend reaching for the bear spray first.

There is a sort of study that claims to show that bear spray is a better choice.  Here’s a recent write-up of it with a link within the article to more information on the study.  In summary, it says that 98% of people who used bear spray to defend themselves against a bear attack walked away unharmed, as did the bears, too.  On the other hand, 56% of people who used firearms suffered some degree of injury themselves, and 61% of the attacking bears were killed as part of the encounter.

This is not a scientific study per se.  It is a collation of two different sets of reports and records; with lots of limitations on the data it collected, lots of subjective elements (starting from such fundamental things as ‘is this really a bear attack or not’) and the interpretation that can be placed on it.  It has also been suggested that some of the people who promulgated their conclusions are predisposed towards disliking guns (and wanting to protect bears).

However, even if one makes large allowances for these points, the results, such as they are, seem to be startling and overwhelmingly in favor of making bear spray your usual best choice.  Bear spray seems to work, and seems to work very well, if used in a situation where it is capable of working well.  The US Fish & Wildlife Service seems to agree.

The problems with bear spray are limited range, susceptibility to wind and rain (the spray doesn’t work nearly as well or far in the rain, wind is a problem too, and on hot days it will disperse more quickly), and possible ‘collateral damage’ on you or other bystanders (if the spray blows back on you).

If you get even the slightest whiff of the spray yourself, you might lose your own capacity to fight and even suffer severely compromised vision.  On the other hand, with a rifle or shotgun, there’s much less chance of doing something that takes you out of the fight; you’re there and fully fighting all the way to the point where the bear is on top of you.

Some Do’s and Don’ts For Bear Spray

Do practice with the bear spray.  Be prepared to use up an entire canister with a series of trial squirts, each of 0.5 – 1.0 seconds in duration.  Try it in cold and hot weather, still and windy weather, rain, in obstructed bush and open plain.  Get familiar and comfortable with the product and how it works.  After all, you spend much more in training with your firearms – a can of bear spray costs not much more than a box or two of ammo.

Do spray slightly lower than the bear when it is some distance away.  The spray tends to rise; but if you spray high, it won’t appreciably fall back down again.  When the bear gets closer, spray straight for the head.

Do spray from side to side as well as directly at the bear.  Sometimes bears might zig zag a bit on their way to you, and by putting up a cloud of spray you get the bear even if he goes a bit off path; plus maybe a bit of wind will shift the cloud one way or the other as well.

Do standby for the bear returning.  Just because it gave up the attack doesn’t mean it won’t come back a minute or three later.  You might need to spray a second time.  Which leads to –

Do buy the biggest canister of bear spray you can, and consider packing at least two of them with you.  No – that’s not excessive; after all, how many full magazines and rounds of ammo do you carry with you?

Do make sure that every member of your party has their own bear spray.

Do make sure that your bear spray shows an official EPA certification (here’s their current list of approved bear spray products).

Do buy some bear spray ‘antidote’ that will help alleviate the effects if you accidentally get some spray on yourself or other people in your group.

Do remember to shake before use.

Do keep an eye on the expiry dates of your bear spray.  When the bear spray has expired, don’t just throw it away.  This is your opportunity to use the canister for more practice.

Don’t defensively spray bear spray around your camp perimeter or on your tents.  The very strong pepper agents are volatile and evaporate over time, but the carrier chemicals they are in (which make up about 98% of the total contents of the spray) are things that bears actually like, or at least are curious to know more about.  You’ll find that laying down a field of spray may actually attract bears a few hours later, rather than repel them.

Don’t use too little spray.  Know how many seconds of spray your canister holds and what its range is, and start spraying shortly before the bear reaches the point of maximum range and keep spraying/spraying/spraying until the bear has turned around and run away.

What to Shoot a Bear With

If our comments on bear spray haven’t been persuasive, or if you want a backup, here’s what you should keep in mind about using firearms for protection against bears.

Although we’ve read stories of people successfully deterring bear attacks with 10mm and heavier calibers of pistols, we’re far from comfortable suggesting you rely on any caliber of handgun at all.  Well, maybe a .454 Casull or a .500 S&W Magnum, but nothing much else.

Our feeling is that the people who have successfully fought off a bear attack with most ‘normal’ calibers of pistols have been very lucky on a basis you can’t be sure of recreating; sort of like people who tell of successfully fighting off a person’s attack with a .22 pistol.  For sure, sometimes .22 pistols ‘work’ and they have even been known to kill people, but do you really want to rely on such a weak underpowered pistol?  The same applies to your choice of firearm for protection against bears, only more so.

Remember also that, the same as with people, most bears are going to die by bleeding out rather than by instant incapacitation.  And, sort of the same as a drug crazed felon who is too ‘out of it’ to realize he has been fatally wounded, and who keeps fighting effectively until his body finally expires, a bear is not necessarily going to pay much attention to the minor stings it might experience from pistol wounds.  By the time it decides to lie down and die, it could well have thoroughly finished you off.  Remember the bear is probably only a couple of seconds away from you at the start of your encounter.  You don’t have the luxury of being able to safely wait a minute or two for the bear to lose interest in the fight.

If you want to be able to seriously change a bear’s attitude, you need either a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with solid rifled slugs, or a heavy-duty sporting rifle – the AK DNR recommends a .300 Mag rifle (as a minimum).

Note that if you do shoot and kill a bear, you probably have some obligations to report the kill and possibly even to ‘salvage’ the bear in some form or another.  You should check with your state’s Hunting/Fishing department, whatever it is called, to understand your obligations, and be ready for the lecture on how you’re not allowed to shoot bears to start with unless your life is in danger, etc.

Some Final Thoughts

Neither bear spray nor bullets, of any size, will guarantee you triumphing in an encounter with a bear.  Luck and other random factors always plays a part.

Just the same as you behave on the street, observing and anticipating and preparing for problems, it is essential that you act so that you have plenty of reaction time, plenty of distance, and plenty of options when coming across a bear.

And, the same as with bad guys on the street, always adopt a defensive posture and do anything/everything you can to avoid the situation escalating to one where your life becomes at risk.