Thursday, March 6, 2014

After Thoughts On Defending Against An Assault And Being Prepared

By Dave Dargo

The two previous entries: "It Happened To Me Today - Defensive Use Of A Handgun" and "Defensive Use Of A Handgun - The Wife's Perspective" discussed what happened when we were confronted by someone completely enveloped in rage.

I feel very fortunate that it was not necessary to fire a shot to escape that situation. I feel very fortunate that I had my pistol with me and had received appropriate training in its use as well as practice in these types of situations.

In the days that have followed that incident, my wife and I have had a chance to reflect on what happened and explore some of the other thoughts that went through our heads.

I've received most of my training at Gunsite Academy. I've been up there 10 times now for almost 300 hours of defensive pistol training and another 40 hours of carbine training. That training consisted of square range work, static simulators as well as force-on-force exercises using Simunition.

Some thoughts have bubbled to the top of my mind after this incident. I realized that some of these things I thought while I was fully engaged in dealing with the assaulter and some came about after a couple of days reflection.

  • The first words out of the mouth of this rage-filled idiot were, "Stop looking at me!" Almost simultaneously, I had two thoughts: O.K., he may really represent a danger to me and my family and, did he really just demand I stop looking at him. I wondered, is this guy 4 years old? This guy was approximately 5' 8" to 5' 10" tall, about 180 pounds and very muscular. He was posturing and, as a result, was quite puffed up. His words seemed laughable to me. His actions weren't, but his words were very funny and out of place to me. The phrase has now become a family meme, "Stop looking at me!"
  • As he continued threatening to "straighten me out", commanding that I "sit back down" and to "stop looking at" him, he simultaneously danced in circles and charged. I've faced a lot of foes in Gunsite's force-on-force training and there were so many things I was expecting him to do I actually thought, "This guy really sucks at this."

    I didn't realize until later that I was comparing his actions to those I had witnessed from professional force-on-force trainers. I had been through so many exercises from so many difficult opponents that this guy was like a junior trainer. I was lucky in that regard. He didn't have partners coming out from hidden corners. He didn't have a weapon. He didn't reach behind his back making me wonder if he was grabbing a gun or a cell phone. He raised his fists, postured, danced and threatened to straighten me out.
  • I thought, "This guy has no idea what he's about to walk into." Of course, I had information that he did not yet have. Although I was backing up and commanding him, "Back off," I was the one who knew I was armed and trained. I didn't want to expose my firearm. I didn't want to have to draw it and I didn't want to have to shoot him. He, however, was the one making those decisions. As I backed away from him and demanded he back off, I knew that I would be able to defend myself if he chose that path by continuing his assault.

    Louisiana is an open-carry state. I've wondered if he would have come after me had I been carrying openly. Would he have noticed right away that I had a pistol on my hip and not even initiated the action against me?
  • At some point he got very serious and started charging directly at me. I had already established my plan of action and started executing it. I expected him to back off the moment I lifted my shirt and exposed my concealed pistol. He continued. I figured, O.K., when I grab the pistol he will back off. He continued one more step. My thought was, "It's taking forever for this guy to take a hint, I might actually have to shoot him to stop him." His actions were already irrational and violent and his rage was blinding him to any reason.
  • As he started charging I noticed his T-shirt. It had circular patterns on it. I picked a circle on the shirt as my target and my focus moved there. I realize that I only have a vague sense of what was actually on the shirt but I remember the circle very well.
  • After he left but before the police arrived we remained quite vigilant in case he decided to circle the block.
  • In speaking to some of the witnesses who saw this unfold they were convinced I was going to have to shoot him to stop him. I didn't feel that pressure. I knew this guy sucked at being a bully. I had faced much tougher opponents at Gunsite and I knew that I had time. He was getting very close to the point of no-return but I've actually felt a lot more nervous in Gunsite training exercises than I did facing this guy. I guess that's what intense training is all about. The harder the training the easier real-life can seem.

    It goes back to something I've always heard and believed, the more practice is like real-life, the more real-life is like practice. At some point, the situation simply felt like another training exercise.
  • After each force-on-force training exercise at Gunsite, the bad-guys and instructors all gather around the student and do a de-briefing on what the student did right and wrong. I'm so used to the de-briefs that there's a part of me that wishes the incident had been caught on video so I could do my own analysis.
  • In the training classes we provide, we talk about awareness and readiness. I've previously written about preventing victimization by maintaining a proper level of awareness. I've commented that one who is aware is much less likely to be a victim. What is more likely, I've posited, is that the aware person will be in a public place and something will happen to someone else. I've said that you might be in a restaurant or store and a domestic violence incident will occur in front of you. That's exactly what happened to us. We were eating lunch at a picnic table at a BBQ joint and someone picked that parking lot to crash into in order to stop and beat his wife or girlfriend.
  • I was surprised by something the police officer told me. No matter how many witnesses, they can't take a report of battery from third-party witnesses. The woman has to come forward and file a complaint. The complaint I filed against the bully was one of simple assault. In Louisiana, that's a misdemeanor. Although I'm willing to follow-up and testify I think it is unlikely that anything will come of it. Just one more violent bully free to roam the streets among us.
This guy moved his focus from the woman to me when he noticed me witnessing his battery. He intended to do me harm or, at the very least, he intended to make me think that.

I remember a video I saw of Colonel Cooper lecturing a class at Gunsite where he told the students that they needed to have the proper mindset in addition to the technical pistol training. The student's mindset had to be one where they realized that it might happen today. It might happen right now. The person who is armed may need to draw their pistol and stop an attack. Without that mindset someone who is armed is not ready.

I'm sorry I had to get to the point of executing a self-defense plan and started to draw my pistol. I'm thankful that I was trained and armed and I'm thankful that the situation wasn't foisted upon someone who was unprepared. The fact that I simply stood up to see what was happening stopped him from attacking the woman with him. The fact that I was prepared and willing to defend myself stopped his attack on me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Defensive Use Of A Handgun - The Wife's Perspective

By Wendy Jeansonne

My husband, Dave, wrote an entry a couple of days ago titled, "It Happened To Me Today - Defensive Use Of A Handgun." Dave, our niece and I thought we were just relaxing over a nice post-Mardi-Gras-parade BBQ lunch that day. If you've read Dave's entry, you have the context for what I'd like to add below.

In our Condition Ready training classes, we talk about the importance of being alert, prepared and committed to taking appropriate action in potentially dangerous/threatening situations. We also talk about the importance of awareness and age-appropriate training for all members of the family. Have you discussed what to do in case of a house fire, for example? When you read/hear in the news about some dangerous situation that has occurred, do you bury it, hoping not to frighten family members or do you use it as an opportunity to discuss, in an age-appropriate manner, what-if scenarios in order to add some problem-solving tools to the family toolbox?

Saturday, as the situation unfolded at the eatery, these were my observations and thoughts:

Before the driver exited the vehicle, the way the car jumped the curb, at a high rate of speed, so close to the outdoor tables where people were dining, it was clear to me that something was amiss (yellow-to-orange alert level escalation for me). When the car screeched to a halt, just missing parked cars and a utility pole, I was certain something was wrong and I gave the situation my undivided attention.

When the driver exited his vehicle, everything in his posturing, gestures and verbalizations made clear to me that he was very angry and was behaving in an erratic, unpredictable manner. He walked around to the passenger side of the car but, because of obstructions, I could not see that side of the vehicle or what was transpiring there. However, I did notice that Dave had leapt from the picnic table to obtain clear line-of-sight to the entire vehicle and whatever was unfolding there.

When I next saw the man, reappearing from the passenger side of the vehicle, he was charging aggressively toward Dave, yelling angrily and threatening Dave. I saw Dave, to my left, take steps backwards and I heard him repeatedly give the loud, assertive, firm command to the man to "Back off!!"

This is where it became very interesting to me in a surreal way. In that instant, looking at Dave, hearing him, watching his actions unfold slowly, confidently and methodically, I knew that Dave had made his plan and was in plan-execution mode. From that point on, I never looked at Dave again because I knew what I needed to do also. I kept my eyes on the angry man as he continued to approach threateningly and I knew that my focus had to be on the safety of bystanders. My decision tree was also in plan-execution mode:
  • If he displays a weapon or charges forward further, I will yell, "Everyone get down, NOW!" I will yell for my niece, "Behind the black car, NOW!" I will grab and pull her, if necessary.
The overriding, baseline thoughts going through my head were:
  • "Dave is executing his plan. I am confident in his mindset, training, ability and decision process."
  • "To the extent that I can, I need to clear the path for Dave so that others are safe and do not interfere with what I am confident is Dave's rational, justifiable, optimal plan to resolve the situation."
When it was all over, I was actually a bit surprised at how calm I felt through the whole situation, though, I probably should not have been surprised; that is EXACTLY how Dave and I were trained, together, at Gunsite ("250 Pistol" course and "Team Tactics for Two" course) and EXACTLY what we teach at Condition Ready -- be alert, be prepared, develop a plan, commit to the plan, execute the plan focusing on one's own area of responsibility.

Dave and I share our observations of our surroundings all the time -- stopped at a gas station, walking out of a restaurant, traveling across country by car, in rest stops....everywhere. We don't live in a state of fear or paranoia; we observe, we discuss, we share ideas and what-ifs. It is a low-key, purposeful education process about how to manage situations, as a TEAM. A gentle, "Honey, do you see that person hanging back in the recessed shadow of that building?" "Heads-up on the person approaching cars stopped at the light ahead." "Something about the trio hanging out at the ATM doesn't look quite right."

One thing I noticed at the BBQ place was that none of the diners seated at the other picnic table seemed ready to take any action to respond to the situation - either to diffuse it or to protect themselves or others. Was it that they were all in that lowest level of awareness where they were not observing their surrounding or analyzing what was unfolding around them? Was the leap from "totally unaware" to "Oh, my gosh, WHAT IS HAPPENING? What do I do?" a deer-in-the-headlights moment that left them paralyzed?

This is precisely why situational awareness, preparation, mindset and training are so important. Did anyone expect this kind of craziness to erupt table-side at an outdoor BBQ stand after a Norman Rockwellian parade? Would you expect a threatening situation to happen while you are stopped in traffic? Would you expect it to come to your front door during a quiet family dinner? No, you probably don't EXPECT it any more than you EXPECT a fire in your car or kitchen...but you probably have a fire extinguisher there just in case, don't you?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

It Happened To Me Today - Defensive Use Of A Handgun

By Dave Dargo

How do we condition ourselves to know what to do in a critical situation? How do we know when we're in a critical situation?

On our web-site and in our class we cover the four levels of awareness and the importance of allowing oneself to easily move from one level of awareness to the next. We also talk about the importance of conditioning specific responses to specific stimuli so that we are executing a clean plan rather than improvising when faced with a critical situation.

Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to experience much of this during a quiet lunch today with my wife and niece. We were eating at a little BBQ place in Baton Rouge. This particular joint has picnic tables about fifteen feet from the road and traffic goes by rather quickly. Our lunch was interrupted when a silver car came driving over the curb and came to a screeching halt in the parking lot. Something was clearly amiss.

I got up from the table to see what was going on. My first thought was there was some type of emergency necessitating such a stop. A man got out of the driver's door, ran around to the front passenger door, ripped that door open and reached in with both hands. My first thought was that a child was in immediate need of assistance and I took a couple of steps forward. Sometime during these few seconds I went from yellow to strong orange in awareness.

At this point, I realized the man was throwing punches and shaking the person in the passenger seat and my assumptions immediately changed to a scenario involving domestic violence. I yelled for my wife to call 911.

I stood there for a second trying quickly to think of the best action to take. Would yelling be enough? I was entering the red or alarm state of awareness.

Before I could take any action, the man looked up, saw me and stepped away from the car.

He yelled, "Stop looking at me."

I said nothing. However, I was not going to stop looking at him for two reasons. I intended to be a good witness and, more importantly, I didn't know if he was going to become a threat to me or the others sitting outside.

I was looking at his hands and his waistline. I knew that if he had a weapon those would be the first places I would see it. At this point he was about 40 feet away. Pace it off if you want, it's not very far.

I did experience time-dilation and I recognized it by how much detail about him and the environment I noticed as the situation unfolded.  I knew he was bigger and younger than I. I knew there was a brick wall just behind him on my right-hand side and a clear sidewalk on the left-hand side. I knew there was no one else in the parking lot between him and me. I noticed the armful of tattoos on his right arm. My alarm or red awareness plan had already formed in my head.

I knew what I would do if I saw a weapon and I knew what I would do if he came at me.

I had already painted in my mind lines on the parking lot between him and me. I had already built my what-if decision tree before he began to move.

- If he comes towards me past the back of his car I will start to back-up.
- If he continues past that point I will start my verbal challenges and will continue them.
- If he crosses the 30' mark towards me I will lift my shirt, grip my firearm and prepare to draw.
- If he crosses the 25' mark I will draw to the low ready.
- If he crosses the 20' mark I will draw onto him.
- If he crosses the 15' mark I will fire.

These decision points had already been created. At this point I was executing a plan based on the choices this individual had made and was about to make.

He started charging towards me yelling that he was going to straighten me out for looking at him. I could see him clenching his fists and bringing his arms up to a fighting position.

He moved to the back of his car. I took my first step backwards in a straight line. I was conscious of my feet taking their very first steps. My feet seemed to remember the slow, self-assured steps they needed to take to maintain footing and balance. I was aware of my feet but was not thinking about how to step as I had done this exercise hundreds of times - my steps were part of a conditioned response.

I issued my first challenge, "Back off!"
He took a step forward, I took a step backward and challenged him again, "Back off!"

He continued his posturing, yelling and charging. He crossed the 30' line. My shirt came up and my hand gripped the firearm. I stepped back again and challenged him again, "Back off!"

I had stepped slightly sideways so the brick wall was directly behind him. He had drawn his hands up to the sides of his chest. Though I could still see his hands, my focus now went directly to his chest. I had decided that this individual, today, right now, may do something that will force me to shoot him. I had selected the point of aim and was focused on it.

He was approaching the 25' line and I could feel myself starting the clear step of the draw-stroke. I commanded again, "Back off!"

He took one more step, stopping just before the 25' line I had drawn in my mind. He looked at me, turned around and returned to the car.

The woman got out of the car. I considered the possibility that she could also be a threat or that he was returning for a weapon and I still gripped my firearm ready to draw. She started yelling at the assaulter, "No one has ever loved you the way I love you."

It took me a second to realize she wasn't yelling at me.

She ran around to the driver's side, he got in the passenger side and they took off.

The police came to take a report and they interviewed the witnesses.

What was interesting to me was what the witnesses reported compared to what I remembered.

About him: I was the only one who saw him beating the woman in the car. Everyone saw him come crashing into the parking lot, go to the passenger side and then charge me aggressively and verbally and physically threaten me.

About me: everyone reported that I kept commanding him to back off or stand down, that I was backing away from him and only displayed my weapon when it appeared that I had no choice. To them they heard a steady stream of "Back Off!" commands coming from me while I only remember discrete commands as he crossed each of the lines I had imagined on the parking lot surface. I think this is a result of me experiencing time dilation and the witnesses seeing a fluid scene unfold.

The entire situation took less than 3 or 4 seconds from start to finish.

There were witnesses who felt I would have been justified in shooting him.

I think it is because of training, conditioning and practice that it was not necessary.

Though I was threatened, I did not panic. Though someone was coming at me aggressively and quickly, the entire situation unfolded very slowly in my mind methodically going from one conditioned response to the next.

I don't know what set this person off on a violent rampage. I don't care. I do know, however, that this would be considered a defensive use of a firearm without ever having to fire a shot; without even having to complete the draw-stroke.

I'm very happy I was in a state that recognizes my fundamental right to self-defense.