Eat Or Be Eaten

I wrote the following article in 1999. It was published in the March 2000 issue of SWAT Magazine. The statistics cited are dated, of course although I doubt much will have improved since most of those data are related to human nature and behavior. I doubt the legal decisions described and footnoted have been changed although I didn’t chase it prior to posting the article here in 2016.

Regardless, I believe the ideas here remain relevant given the certainty of new gun control legislation being enacted within the next 18 months. Sadly, such legislation will concern inanimate objects rather than behavior because it is easier to demonize objects. To discriminate, i.e. to note or observe a difference between, beliefs, behavior, competence (physical and psychological) and then to draft meaningful, respectful regulation according to those assessments is far more difficult. And frankly, this requires a higher degree of intelligence than I have observed in the politicians on whom such responsibility is conferred.


Wake Up!

Because people consider guns more dangerous than criminal behavior itself, they disregard the everyday risk of falling victim to violent predators.

During the Rangemaster Advanced Tactical Pistol Class I learned the exact nature of the risk we each tolerate twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. The instructors, Tom Givens, Jim Higginbotham and Dane Burns, have 60 years of combined law enforcement experience between them. They presented plenty of sobering words during the five day course.

Balanced equally between shooting and reasoning, the Rangemaster class was the first of any kind of defensive training that caused me to think beyond my front sight.

I began shooting four years ago. I came to it after having spent my life climbing mountains. I traveled to the great mountain ranges of the world, climbed new routes, alone or with others, and set speed records on routes which others had already climbed. The instant I picked up a pistol my life changed.

Competitive by nature, I gravitated towards IPSC matches. Shooting itself was all that mattered. I never once considered the philosophy of personal defense. Despite the sociologic ignorance my reclusive mountaineer’s life instilled, I eventually read and experienced enough to understand the violent crime problem in this country. Now I keep a gun within reach every hour, every day, no matter where I am. Not simply for defensive purpose, but because I believe in Jeff Cooper’s thesis that a firearm changes a Subject into a Citizen.

Well-read or not, I wasn’t prepared for the significance of the statistics presented in the class. I had assumed the weight of responsibility that personal security placed on my shoulders without realizing how wise the choice had been.

The Bureau of Justice’s national average states I have a 1 in 4 chance of being a victim of violent crime in my lifetime. The risk conferred by living in a major population center like Memphis - where index felonies (rape, robbery, homicide, aggravated assault, etc) number 200 per day - increases my chances of being a predator’s lunch snack to 1 in 9 annually.

Our general complacence puts responsibility for personal safety in the hands of the police. I asked whether they are obliged to look out for me?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local law enforcement has no duty to protect a particular person, rather a general duty to enforce the laws(1). Neither does the U.S. Constitution give me any right to police protection. "There is no constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen.”(2) Furthermore, " ...Absent a special relationship, the police may not be held liable for failure to protect a particular individual from harm caused by criminal conduct.”(3) With few exceptions, the police have no legal duty to help any particular person, even one whose life is in immediate danger.

If they were accountable for my safety, there aren’t enough police on the streets to guarantee it. In 1997 there were 150,000 police officers on duty at any one time; one to protect every 1700 individuals.

Memphis (where the Rangemaster school headquarters is located) has 1700 total police officers. For each one on the street, another is in a support position. Dividing those 850 into 3 shifts to cover the 24 hours in each day leaves 280. Exclude several dozen to account for weekends, holidays and sick leave. Assigning another few dozen officers to traffic control, interviews, court appearances and so on, makes less than 200 cops available on the street at any given time.

Two officers must respond to a 911 call. So, realistically there are less than 100 total units available to answer any 911 call of crime in progress. The population’s consensual reality is that these roughly 80 police units are responsible for the safety of 650,000 individual citizens covering a 30 square mile area (one responding unit for every 8000 citizens).

Even if the police were obligated to protect me and there were enough of them to do so, data indicate that they may not be able to.

With all due respect, statistics reveal police suffer from a stunning lack of training and competence with firearms. According to the national average, police hit their target 18% of the time during violent confrontations. Individual locales vary: the LAPD’s percentage is the highest in the nation (30%), while New York’s is the lowest (11%).

In 1996 the NYPD fired 1293 shots at suspects, hitting 64 bad guys and 11 bystanders. Due to the size of the force, budget and time constraints, NYPD officers train on the range one day per year. It is not surprising that there were only 2 torso hits out of 41 shots fired at Amidou Diallo.

In comparison, graduates of Gunsite or Rangemaster courses, who were involved in shootings subsequent to their classes hit with 85-100% of their shots fired in defense of life.

To me, the above statistics do not belittle the character or intent of professional law enforcement officials. The data do communicate the fact that I will be the target of a violent criminal, and since dialing 911 is no guarantee of adequate police response, my personal security is my responsibility.

Therefore I seek the best training and equipment I can afford and prepare to fight for my life. Because, according to Givens, “lack of aggressive response kills more crime victims than any thing else.”

The smart predator fulfills no stereotypes and respects no boundaries. He knows easy pickings may be found in the suburbs or gated communities where folks believe crime doesn’t happen. There, he can feed indiscriminately on preoccupied grass-eaters. Unless he runs across a rare person with above average awareness and ability, who believes his life is actually worth fighting for.

Determined to be that rare person, I train as often as I can.

The Rangemaster Advanced Tactical Pistol class I attended at the Firearms Academy of Seattle was a prototype course for advanced students. It presented a synthesis of the instructors’ many years of theoretical and practical training. Theory was tempered by real world experience of the streets and several shootouts which certain parties did not walk away from. Each instructor developed their own personal philosophy apart from standardized training. Givens and Higginbotham present tactical thinking and behavior grounded more in defensive issues while Burns teaches the skills and attitude of a hunter/ warrior.

Early in the week Givens spoke of not allowing criminals to determine how we live our lives. A defensive attitude, based on awareness and combat skills, allows us more freedom than an unskilled person enjoys. But the fact that the position is defensive, thus reactive, still admits to a great degree of influence exerted by the thugs.

To me, the defensive attitude insists that one not go looking for trouble. All efforts to avoid such should be taken because the average person, whether armed or not, is incapable of defeating a vicious, determined aggressor. The best fight is the one you avoid. But the instructors also hammered home the necessity of behaving aggressively if a violent confrontation is unavoidable - do so or die.

Burns’ philosophy is more assertive. He believes focusing on the external, the gear, and the mechanics is meaningless without the will to back them up. His method is contingent upon great psychological strength; training and expressing one’s will is predominant.

His teachings reminded me that a friend once squared off against three leather-clad bikers in the Yosemite Park laundromat. He was a big guy, a former cornerback at Penn State and a brilliant climber. He had no special fighting skills, but his will was unparalleled. When the bikers saw the smile on his face, when they realized he welcomed the opportunity of combat, and what it would cost them to win they all backed away without ever throwing a punch.

The hunter/ warrior’s attitude and carriage allow him to exercise greater freedom because he is able to impose his will on the world around him. He doesn’t look for trouble, but his life is less affected by the criminal behavior around him because he knows and shows that he can handle any situation.

The philosophy of personal survival differs according to personal experience. My career as a professional mountain climber placed me in many crisis situations. I rescued the living, recovered the dead and saw life snuffed out in front of my eyes. But my experience encouraged a survival philosophy quite different from that developed by these law enforcement professionals. Mystical arguments aside, in the mountains there are no sentient antagonists and involvement, up to the point when the shit hits the fan, is purely voluntary.

The philosophical differences among instructors were complementary. Each student was able to assume the one which best suited his situation and emotional condition. I have no doubt that Givens and Higginbotham are themselves hunter/ warriors, but they understand that a defensive doctrine is within easier reach of most students.

Although we were there to shoot, gun skills make up only a small percentage of what Givens calls the “Survival Chain.” Equipment is an even smaller part of the equation. Guys showed up with Glocks and 1911s and High Powers, and I could waste everyone’s time discussing the merits of each. The gear matters a lot less than the confidence one has (or doesn’t have) in it, and the skill, or lack thereof, with which he wields it.

Being a defensive course, all guns were drawn from concealment. We shot in 360˚ shooting bays, in simulator houses, in low light, and in total darkness. Moving tactically through “jungle lanes”, we issued verbal challenges and learned to use cover effectively. We shot paper and steel, and Tactical Teds (3D torso shaped targets with a hidden bowling pin representing the vital area - only A-zone hits knocked them over). We shot at all targets - for the most part - while on the move. Each student was tested on the FBI, Smith & Wesson Academy and Air Marshal’s qualification courses. Plastic training guns were snatched away from us. Some did the same to others. Protected by padded FIST suits, we practiced full contact hand-to-hand techniques and methods of retaining our weapons during extremely close quarters combat. We engaged targets after having been disarmed. Some clever fellows carried back-up guns, others made do with less. After Monday’s admonition that Givens expected us to arrive armed, we faced a surprise course of fire first thing on Tuesday morning. Only one “survived” the scenario.

We shot from a variety of positions. Emphasis was on the Weaver stance. After years of emotional whining I finally heard a rational argument for the Weaver; it is the same stance used to shoot a rifle or shotgun, box or initiate attacks in many martial arts. It’s a fighting stance. While the Isosceles may be better for shooting on the move either position works for a gifted operator and he must know them both. But neither platform will work without investing time and effort to learn the mechanical limitations of one’s own body and personal preferences.

Although certain techniques were emphasized, the course was based on Bruce Lee’s premise of adapting and adopting the best characteristics from many sources. The instructors made few dogmatic statements. Each student was free to take, leave or modify what he felt appropriate. The idea that simple is better because it is faster permeated the curriculum. Hicks Law states that more options require more selection time so reaction is slower. Givens insisted we keep our techniques few, our responses simple and our movement fluid, thus fast.

Shooting is easy - it’s a physical skill that may be trained through repetition - tactical and strategic thinking is the hard stuff.

Classroom Study:
Each morning in the classroom Givens reiterated the need to take one’s paranoid pill every day, “otherwise someone will cut your throat.” His lectures were exciting and enlightening. Seamlessly blending a drill instructor’s forcefulness with a motivational speaker’s persuasive message, he held our attention without distraction whenever he spoke. He told no “war stories”, but I could sense his past experience there, under the surface, reinforcing every word he said.

Burns’ personally debriefed each student following exercises he oversaw. His critiques, in such close proximity to the action, were one of the keys to our steep learning curve. A nationally renowned mountain climber earlier in his life, Burns used the talent and attitude that kept him alive in the mountains to survive several shootings. He made roughly 2000 arrests during his seven-year career in what Givens called, “the pointy end of law enforcement.”

Higginbotham is a sneaky fellow who prefers to teach outside, on a hot range. His tactical drills brought out a student’s bad habits. He made me recognize my enslavement to competition-learned “stand and shoot” rules of engagement. Often, he told us what to expect in a particular drill. Then he’d show us something else, forcing us to respond to what we actually saw. It kept us from rehearsing how to deal with a preconceived threat beforehand. By the end of the week, when he said, “move quickly through here, the next target is at least 15 yards away,” I responded that I didn’t trust him. He replied, “that’s a good idea.”

On Thursday we watched videos of the FBI shootout with Platt and Matix in Miami. These were sobering reenactments wherein bad tactical decisions were followed by poor shooting, and then by deficient reasoning in application of responsibility. The concept of shooting on the move, being taught in the class, was clearly illustrated by these videos; Platt was always maneuvering while the FBI agents stood there and traded shots with him as if he and they were paper targets.

Later we watched a “live” tape of two Deputy Sheriffs ushering an extradited suspect into an airport. Outside the area protected by metal detectors, a man stood unnoticed at a bank of public phones. The Marshals’ inattention (Condition White) allowed the man to step toward the handcuffed suspect, put a gun to his ear and kill him instantly. Both Marshals subdued the assailant after he calmly replaced the phone’s receiver in its cradle. The situation was quite embarrassing because the shooter had announced to police his intent to assassinate the suspect.

Givens questioned us immediately following the tape. None of us accurately recalled the incident’s duration, nor what the shooter did upon killing the suspect. We could not say whether the assailant was right or left handed, or recall the Marshals’ exact reactions. Givens’ questions accompanied a directive that, “if you shoot someone in defense of life, say nothing. Adrenaline prevents clear recollection for three to four hours after an event. Your testimony may contradict that of witnesses. Remain silent, let your attorney do the talking.”

The Reactionary Loop
By making a dispassionate inventory of my skills and readiness, I know I have the mechanical aptitude and intent to respond appropriately to a violent confrontation. But I recognize tactics as the weakest link in my Survival Chain (mindset + attitude + tactics + gear). I have not trained the analysis and decision-making process thoroughly enough.

Understanding the principle of the Reactionary Loop, which governs all thought and action, started me down the road to better tactical and strategic thinking.

Imagine yourself in a situation requiring your participation. You must first see it developing. Second, you orient to, or comprehend the potential problem. Then you analyze it to decide what to do. Fourth and finally, you act. The process can not be made any simpler. Happily, criminal behavior follows the same pattern. As long as you are one step ahead, you may, depending on luck, be able to influence the outcome of the events.

But if the criminal sees you as an opportunity first and orients to you before you see him, you are behind the curve. If he decides to act while you are still orienting to him, you’ve lost. Once he acts, your fastest reaction will occur 1/4 of a second later. If your draw from concealment takes a little over a second, you are at least 1.5 seconds behind and you’ll be meat if the criminal is determined to eat you.

This class taught me that my everyday state must be one of constant awareness. I must see potential threats before they see me. I must continually “game out” any situations I find myself in, “if he does this, I’ll do that.” Like chess, I must think ahead of my opponent. One step ahead is usually enough to determine the outcome of any interaction. According to one of Burns’ dictums, “situational awareness is often situational dominance”.

During the week-long course I changed my point of view toward shooting, crime and mental training. Competition develops great shooting skills, but a “scoop” draw from a speed rig won’t help me on the street. Rehearsing courses of fire before shooting them doesn’t sharpen my ability to think on my feet either. I won’t condescend to say that IPSC is a game, or that IDPA is more practical. All of these disciplines are just a game to someone.

Burns taught that we fight how we train. So I’ll compete with a single stack in the Concealed Carry category from now on.

The class closed with a man-on-man shoot-off using a combination of Tactical Teds and steel poppers. All eyes were on the two competitors while they were shooting, so the peer pressure was tangible. Givens had started the class by saying, “most people will work harder not to look bad in front of their peers than they will to save their own life.” If the energy, attention and speed apparent in the shoot-off is applied to resolving a violent social confrontation, it will be the graduates of this class who dial 911 once the smoke clears.

(1) [South v. Maryland, 59 U.S. (HOW) 396,15 L.Ed., 433 (1856)].

(2) [Bowers v. DeVito, U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, 686F.2d 616 (1882) and Reiff v. City of Philadelphia, 477F.Supp.1262 (E.D.Pa. 1979)].

(3) [Morgan v. District of Columbia, 468 A2d 1306 (D.C. App. 1983)].

Mark Twight
Mark Twight