Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Decision to Be an Armed Citizen – Part 2

In Part 1 of this article series, I discussed the “why” with regards to the decision to become an armed citizen. It’s really very straight forward: I want to protect my family because the government and law enforcement are under no obligation to do so. I have accepted this, and will gladly take on this responsibility. My family means that much to me. It’s a no brainer as far as I’m concerned. Self defense is a basic human right, and a responsibility that I have fully accepted.

I would like to continue this article series by using this segment to explain some of the things with which I equip myself when I carry. I will discuss such things as what I wear, what I carry, how I carry, and a term that I refer to as “defense in depth.” This isn’t by any means meant to be a recipe for others to follow. My strategies won’t work for everyone. And there are far greater numbers of experts out there who can tell you more about tactics, training, and self defense than I could ever hope to. Rather, I hope to give some examples of some things that have helped me, and to help you decide for yourself what will work best for you.

So now that I have made this decision, how does it affect my daily life? Surely, one doesn’t just strap on a gun and go walking around. There are certain places an armed citizen can and cannot go, and certain things an armed citizen has to do a bit differently than before. As I mentioned before, the decision to be an armed citizen affects not only the person who is armed, but practically everyone around them. There is still a lot of fear and apprehension about guns out in the community. Some people believe in the right to be armed, but simply choose not to be. Then there are others who don’t believe that citizens should have guns at all, as well as those who are morbidly afraid of firearms. The latter is a result of lack of education (about firearms) and misinformation from a biased media in my opinion, and I will speak more to that in a later segment in this series.

Oh, What to Wear:

A recent cartoon I saw on the Internet depicted a person who was carrying a concealed weapon making the statement: “Having a concealed weapon is like wearing Power Rangers underwear; both are very cool, but you don’t dare show anybody.” There is a lot of truth to that. Having a concealed weapon, in my opinion, means that it stays concealed – period! There are a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we keep our handguns concealed primarily because it keeps the bad guys guessing and gives us the element of surprise. Secondly, quite a few states have “shall issue laws for concealed carry permits, but not all of those states have “open carry” laws. This means that if you have a concealed firearm, it must stay concealed, lest you be arrested for public menacing. And finally, firearms just make some people frightened. I submit that those fears are irrational, but those fears are very real to those people; why put them through needless worry and stress? They have every right to feel as comfortable in their surroundings as we do. And their worry and stress tends to lead to unwanted attention drawn to yourself, and perhaps the requirement to explain yourself to law enforcement when those more frightened people freak out and call the police.

Wardrobe decisions are just something that has never plagued me before. I was in the Navy for twenty years – my daily attire was chosen for me. After leaving the service, I have been mostly a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. Even when I am at work, jeans and a decent sport shirt or polo shirt are considered appropriate for my office. But carrying a concealed weapon means that your attire has to support concealment. Flaunting a weapon for the reasons that I have already discussed is just not something that I want to do. Colorado is an open carry state, and I have a permit, so either way I am covered. But the fewer people who know I am carrying the better. In fact, when I took my daughter to the mall recently, she had no clue I was carrying my handgun. Concealed means concealed – it’s as simple as that for me.

The particular handgun that I carry at the moment seems to be most conducive to being holstered. It is fairly small (compact, but not sub-compact), but I feel I can retrieve it from a paddle holster on my hip better than some of the other types of holsters I have tried. And I tried several holsters before making this decision. I have a few other holsters that I try from time to time. As moods change and clothing changes, so too can the holster if needed.

My carry gun is large enough, however, that an in-waist-band holster scheme doesn’t seem to feel very comfortable at all. The paddle holster keeps it fairly high on my hip, but I still need to wear a long shirt or sweat-shirt to keep it concealed. I just bought some long shirts and leave them un-tucked – voila! Seems to work well now (early spring – and it even snowed this morning), but in the summer I may have to change that strategy a bit. Concealment vests are a good idea, but the looks of some of them on a person seems to scream out “Hey! I’m carrying a gun!” Same with fanny packs. Around here, I can spot a person carrying a gun in a fanny pack from a mile away – they all have the same haircut, and they always have the big bulging fanny pack in front. You can just tell.

What About Other Gear:

The type of holster and how to conceal were really the biggest decisions I had to make. Once I chose the best way to conceal my firearm so I could comfortably carry it around, the big issues were over. Beyond that, however, there are other things that I feel are necessary. Being in the information security biz, the term “defense in depth” is a large part of my daily vocabulary. Securing information takes a variety of tools to keep networks, computers and data safe. Self defense is really no different. A firearm is not always going to be the best or only method for defense from an attack.

There are many types of attacks, and there are many types of defenses. Criminal attacks are not the only attacks. And certainly there are people who feel bold enough to get in your personal space because they are angry for whatever reason, but they aren’t really intent on committing a violent crime. I live in an area with lots of wildlife. We have foxes in the neighborhood regularly. Bears and mountain lions have been known to come down out of the mountains, as have coyotes. There are stray dogs as well. For example, at least twice in recent weeks while walking my dog, some stray dogs have attacked me and one other person near me while I was out. My dog is small, so I picked him up, and kicking the attacking dogs was enough to send them off. On a walk the other day, a gentleman and his dog were attacked by a large dog, and the dog drew blood. If I had not turned around to retrieve a forgotten item from the house before the walk that would have been my dog and me getting attacked. But had that happened to us, would drawing my weapon and shooting the dog been a viable solution? Certainly not! It was simply a case of a large, strong dog getting away from its owner. A good shot of pepper spray would have likely turned the dog away, and the dog would have lived. The owner would have been upset, but that would have been their problem. When animal control showed up, I think they had enough to worry about explaining how their big dog got away and attacked someone.

The point is that a firearm is not always the best or even most responsible defense. Shooting a dog or their owner, or even just shooting an obnoxious jerk that is getting in your face, for example, will probably land you in jail. But using the amount of defensive force commensurate with the attack is usually considered reasonable and prudent. If someone refuses to get out of your face and is getting close enough to be a threat, a shot in the face with pepper spray may do the trick. A potential attacker approaching in a dark parking lot may be scared away when a tactical grade flashlight is shined in their eyes, temporarily blinding them. I don’t care how “bad” you think you are – someone flashing a tactical grade flashlight in your eyes gives you pause to think about what else that person might also be carrying. So carrying other defensive tools might also serve as a deterrent in that it says that you are prepared and willing to act – and escalate your actions if warranted.

Having multiple tools at your disposal is a wise decision. So for that reason, besides the firearm, I carry other items such as a cell phone, pepper spray, a knife, and a flashlight. I consider these items the absolute minimum. And the beauty is that these additional items are relatively small, and I don’t have to feel like I am carrying a hardware store around in my pockets. Even if I am in a place where I cannot carry a gun for legal or other reasons, the other items are usually acceptable and legal.

By choosing the right types of self defense items, you will also have useful tools to deploy in multiple ways. For example, a good defensive flashlight and certain types of pepper spray come in the same shape and size of a kubotan stick. These can then be easily used to jab into bony or fleshy parts and inflict a great deal of pain in a close-in encounter. Surefire, for example makes a flashlight known as the E2D Executive Defender, which has a crenellated strike bezel which can also be used as a close-in striking tool to inflict injury and pain. A good tactical flashlight will help you look inside and underneath your car in a poorly lit parking lot, and will also temporarily blind someone who is approaching you.

Having defense in depth provides a greater deal of security than simply replying on one single tool – just as you have many tools to do all your household chores, so should you have many tools to provide for your safety.

Wrapping It All Up:

To me, carrying concealed means just what it implies. I don’t want anyone to know I am carrying a firearm, or any other weapons for that matter. It is important to me that the bad guys don’t know who is carrying – it keeps them guessing. And I know that there are a lot of frightened people out there who freak out at even the mention of firearms. Why put them through undue stress? In fact, as I am sitting here typing this from a public coffee shop, none of the people here have a clue that there is an armed citizen in their midst – and I intend to keep it that way. I’m not going to change their minds about the benefit of being armed in the time of our brief encounter – so why try? Why go through having to explain to them that their fears are irrational and that they are safe as kittens around me? It just isn’t worth it, but it is worth avoiding the situation altogether.

Beyond the act of concealment, I consider self defense to be a matter of employing the right tools for the job. That is why I carry a variety of self defense items such as cell phones, a knife, tactical flashlight, and pepper spray, and of course - my wits.

In Part 3 of this series, I will sum up this series by discussing what mental preparations and decisions I make when I am out and about, and by trying to impart a few thoughts about why I feel that carrying a firearm is right for me. Some of this preparation may seem burdensome or inconvenient – but to me it is not. As I stated last time: I look at this as a necessary part of life as an armed citizen.

Back to Part 1

On to Part 3

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Decision to Be an Armed Citizen – Part 1

What is it that makes a normal, every day computer geek who lives in a small town decide to carry a concealed weapon? After all, the town I live in is not an extraordinarily high crime area. I live in a good neighborhood and work in a fairly secure building. I have a family, two dogs, a bunch of mundane hobbies, and I don’t purposely hang out in dangerous areas. I have never personally witnessed a crime, and have never been the victim of an armed criminal. Although I have noticed that the local mall, even in this small town, seems to attract the dregs of society that hang out there with nothing to do except size up other people and decide who to harass – but that’s another part of the story.

A decision to carry a concealed weapon, after all, carries with it an awesome responsibility – why would I decide to be responsible for the myriad of issues that comes with it? By deciding to carry a concealed weapon I have decided that I am willing to take a human life if necessary. I have decided that I am willing to be put in the position to quickly decide in an emergency situation whether or not to run, shoot, or even if my decision will be the correct (and legally defensible) one. Finally, this decision carries with it a notable change in lifestyle.

But despite all that, I made a conscious decision to carry a concealed weapon. In the next few articles (not sure how many parts yet), I would like to document and share my decision making process with you to help you understand what makes a normal citizen make such a potentially life changing decision. This series of articles will chronicle the decision making process, the social responsibilities of carrying a concealed weapon (as I understand them to be), and the significant lifestyle changes that one goes through once getting the permit and carrying a firearm.

Making the Initial Leap:

First, I’ll tell you a little bit about the “how” of my decision making processes. This is not, or certainly SHOULD not be an easy decision. In my case, it took a great deal of thought, prayer, research, and certainly training. Thought and prayer in this decision were the easy part. I felt that if I placed my trust in the Lord’s hands, that He would guide me toward the answers – and I believe He did. Faith that God designed us to be responsible for certain aspects of our lives, self defense being one of them, led me to what I believe is the right conclusion about carrying a weapon during my daily life.

For the research, I consulted many sources, among which being the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, and various other Internet discussion forums. Then, there are numerous blogs, discussion forums, and news sources documenting the many instances where an armed citizen was able to save themselves and others around them by carrying and calling upon their weapon.

For the training, I relied partly on my prior experiences handling firearms, which told me that constant training is always needed. It started out as a venture to take my spouse to a basic pistol course, to get her familiar with firearms, and to pick up new insights on concealed carry for myself. From there, training evolved into regular visits to the range, getting involved in competitive shooting events, and constantly reading articles and books from noted authors on concealed carry and self defense. Training and gaining new knowledge about firearms and self defense is a daily part of my routine these days.

Now for the seemingly more philosophical yet most important part - the “why” part - of this whole decision process: It has become painfully clear to me that even in a small town like the one in which my family and I live, there are still bad people who wish to do others harm. We still hear about home invasions, store robberies, people getting robbed in their own driveways, and various other violent crimes, right here in our part of the state! A major city with noted gang activity is not far away – it is only a matter of time before the criminals get bored and decide to take their show on the road. And because I have a spouse, children, and two dogs, all of whom I love very much, I am willing to protect them. My willingness to protect them includes using deadly force if necessary.

The Philosophy and the Reasoning:

My willingness to protect my family goes beyond a mere philosophical need to prove that I am a good person and provider, however. I believe that I have a personal responsibility to protect them and provide for their safety. This responsibility is found in Biblical teaching, and further rooted in my own beliefs. The Supreme Court has made it perfectly clear that the government and police have no obligation to protect us as individuals (a noteworthy example being the 2005 case of Castle Rock versus Gonzales). I accept this. I am perfectly willing and able to take on this obligation and do my part.

But I feel this obligation even transcends my obligation to just my family. Research has shown that areas that have more armed citizens experience fewer violent crimes. The more armed citizens there are the more uncertainty the criminals have. Who is carrying a weapon and who is not? This dramatically increases the criminal’s risks of being stopped, injured, or even killed during the commission of their crime. Studies by people such as Dr. John Lott have shown that an entire community is safer because of the population of people who carries concealed weapons. In fact, even noted anti-gun advocate and University of Pennsylvania professor David Mustard has had to admit that citizens who carry do not add to gun violence and do in fact make their communities safer:

"When I started my research on guns in 1995, I disliked firearms... My views on this subject were formed primarily by media accounts of firearms, which unknowingly to me systematically emphasized the cost of firearms while virtually ignoring their benefits. I thought it obvious that passing laws that permitted law abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms would create many problems. But research has convinced me that laws that require right-to-carry permits to be granted unless the applicant has a criminal record or a history of significant mental illness reduce violent crime and have no impact on accidental deaths."

Source: "Culture Affects Our Beliefs About Firearms, But Data Are Also Important," 151 U. Penn. Law Review, 1387, 2003

I want my family to be safe, but beyond that, I want my entire community to be a good and safe place to live.

Wrapping It All Up:

So for these reasons, and more, I have decided to become an armed citizen. As you can see, such a decision requires a lot of thought, and for many people like me, is not an easy decision. But now that I have made the leap and obtained my permit, I have now stepped into a new life. In the next article, I will talk about how some of my daily wardrobe habits have changed to accommodate my carrying a concealed weapon, and the types of other things that I have to think about carrying. But as you will see, I don’t look on any of this as a burden or an inconvenience. I look at this as a necessary part of life as an armed citizen.

On to Part 2

On to Part 3