I have been working on this post for a while now, I apologize if it seems to ramble a little.  I was motivated to revive it because of a news story about an attack on a CCW permit holder.  This is not the first story I have read about a CCW permit holder getting taken down and not firing a shot.  I first started this post as a response to a post by Miguel regarding a failed DGU that resulted in the death of the defending party.  And of course there is the oft repeated anti-CCW argument that women are too weak to have or carry guns.

In each one of these cases, and those like them that I didn’t link to, the scenario begs the question: why have a gun if you are not prepared to use it effectively?  This post is my attempt to answer that question.

Many years ago when I was In ROTC in college, I would read whatever I could get my hands on regarding military strategy, tactics, and doctrine.  I was going to be a general.  Rommel you magnificent bastard, I read your book.  Needless to say, those plans did not come to fruition.

One of the more interesting books I read was by Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall, the Chief Military Historian of the US Army for WWII.  Marshall discovered that about 80% of soldiers would no fire at the enemy with the intent to kill them.  Many never fired their weapon at all.  Of those who did, many would “pray and spray” or provide covering fire.  That is not to say the remaining soldiers were cowards.  They carried ammo, water, wounded, etc,. and provided for the war effort.  But it was a small minority of soldiers that could line up their sights on an enemy and pull the trigger with the intent to kill them.

This information is reinforced by the whole history of technology in combat, which served to separate the soldier from the killing he was expected to do.  The greater the distance, the better the solider was as killing: clubs to swords to spears to arrows to the long bow to muskets to artillery to bomber aircraft to ICBMs.  The further a soldier was from the casualties he was producing the easier it was for him to kill.  Arial bombardment and artillery produced far more casualties in war than small arms fire.

There is a reason for this, of course.  Humans are social animals; we do better in groups than on our own.  Empathy is part of that.  Evolution or nature or god or whatever has programmed us to be empathetic to our fellow humans, so that we don’t kill each other and instead work together.  The stronger the bond – family, clan, tribe, nation – the more empathetic we are.  It is hard to look someone in the face and kill them.  It goes against our empathetic nature.


So to get back to the original point of this post.  Why do I believe that a woman, fearing for her life from an ex didn’t kill him?  Why did two CCW permit holders not use their permitted guns to defend themselves?  I believe that despite owning a gun, obtaining a permit, and perhaps years of target practice, they weren’t prepared to kill.  That is a major emotional hurtle for a person to climb.

The military developed an entirely new training regiment prior to Vietnam with the goal of making 80% of solders combat effective.  There has been a downside to this.  It is believed that one of the reasons that America soldiers have suffered so much more emotional trauma (PTSD) in Vietnam  and the Middle East, compared to WWII, is that these young men and women have been trained to kill in combat, but do not know how to cope with the emotional ramifications of that when they return home.

So where does that leave us?  It is possible for a person to overcome their good, empathetic nature and defend themselves with lethal force.  If you choose to own and/or carry a gun for self defense, you must be emotionally prepared to use it.    If not, you may get killed by the psychopath who has no empathetic qualms about ending you.

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By J. Kb

8 thoughts on “He who hesitates is lost.”
  1. I’m not sure that Marshall’s study was entirely accurate, knowing the limitations of post-war interview studies. However, a wise man told me 33 years ago: “Do not buy a gun for self-defense unless you are fully prepared to see brain matter splattered on your ceiling at home.” The graphic, imagined mental picture of the aftermath of a successfully thwarted home invasion caused me to think long and hard. In the end, I convinced myself that I had what it took. Better the other guy’s brains than my own. Your post is spot on. Fortunately, like many LEOs, I’ve never had to draw my pistol in a real fight.

    1. I think I talked with the same wise man when I first began thinking about carrying a handgun for reasons other than punching holes in paper. I pass his words of wisdom on to anybody who asks me (I’ve sort of become “the gun guy”) which gun they should but – I tell them to go home and think about this for a week and then come back and discuss their answer: “Are you convinced that you are going to pull the trigger to defend your life, regardless of who it is in front of you?”

      I’ve had a few folks give up the idea of using a gun for self defense, and then also realize that if they are not sure they would pull the trigger they are not sure they could cut someone with a sword/knife or beat them with a baseball/cricket bat.

      That handgun on my side is not a talisman but an awesome and fearful responsibility. I have to answer that question in the affirmative every day – when I can no longer say “Yes!” it is time to find someone who can to pass my gun to.

      stay safe.

  2. Defending my family and home by taking a life was thought-provoking but in the end the decision for defense really was a no-brainer; better to kill than to leave my wife to the mercies of a criminal if I die with only my fists for protection.

    The really deep thinking went into the decision of whether or not to get my concealed-carry license. I am too old for such shenanigans as a street fight and if I am to stay alive in our society that seemingly cares less about life everyday then harm must fall on the criminal, not upon me.

  3. As a LEO, I had to make that decision. Fortunately, at the last instant, just before the trigger broke on my shotgun, the perp lowered his rifle, and it ended. To this day, (over 40 years later) I can vividly remember exactly what happened, the patch of woods we were in, the weather, etc. When an LEO is involved in a shooting he/she receives all sorts of support from psychologists, peer support groups, and family counseling centers to readjust before returning to duty. Does the military spend that kind of time with our returning combat fighters? Does the VA, or their branch of service follow up after they return home to preclude metal issues as a result of their having to take human lives, albeit in the course of their duties? Perhaps if they received such support, we would hear fewer stories of troubled veterans. And the same holds true for the citizen who is forced to take a life using his lawfully carried weapon. Have a plan of “after action” to include support for both you, and your family, as all involved will face not only the immediate results of the incident, but possibly the long term pressures of impending legal battles.

  4. Rule 6: It’s better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6. Shoot without hesitation if you believe your life is in danger. A gun is a weapon, not a magic wand that will paralyze your opponents with fear or make them reasonable. If you aren’t prepared to kill to defend yourself, don’t carry a gun. (The Rules of Combat Gunfighting – Gary L. Griffiths 1995)

  5. “Arial bombardment”
    Death by fonts?

    Seriously, Jeff Cooper developed his color-coded steps for mental preparation to use lethal force to address this problem for domestic carry. (Cooper’s system should not be confused with the color-code system of alertness or increased situational awareness. Although it started with that, over time it evolved into a related, but different system to address exactly this problem – the difficulty the average man finds in pulling the trigger on another human being. I have a video of a talk he gave at Gunsite that appears to have been made during the transition from the “alert” system to the “shooting preparation” system.)

    Cooper’s system:
    White – Unprepared to take a life.
    Yellow – Awareness that “I might have to kill someone today,” usually initiated as you leave your home.
    Orange – A potential threat has been identified, switch to, “I may have to kill that person.”
    Red – A threat is imminent and must be defeated or stopped immediately. Mental preparedness to shoot shifts to, “I must kill that person.”

    These increasing levels of readiness to use lethal force were intended by Cooper to provide a method of creating mental preparedness to take a life. It’s easier to go from stage to stage than it is to go from “White” to “Red” in a single leap, supposedly making the use of lethal force easier and more sure when necessary. An analogy is the need to overcome a series of safeties on a weapon before it will fire. Each successive step in Cooper’s system is meant to take down a barrier to the reluctance to use lethal force.

  6. I don’t agree with your assessment of the latest case and the video. I don’t think the guy even really had much opportunity to make use of his gun. The robber was on him and they were squiriming aroubd almost instantly. After watching it about 10 times it still wasn’t clear to me how the gun made it out of the holster to begin with. It is also strange that the robber appears to reach under the guys shirt like he is either looking for a gun or trying to take his wallet. He also reacted probably about the same way I would from being grabbed from behind, surprised and trying to get away. To me good guy was fighting to maintain control of his gun the whole time or to not loose control of it and thus didn’t get a chance to deploy it. My two cents.

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