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Playing in Mogadishu – The Dangers of False Security and the Value of Situational Awareness February 23, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in Risk & Risk Management, weapons and tactics.
Tags: , , , , , ,

UPDATE: This is a great video that shows the difficulty in reacting with a concealed weapon.  Let me be clear, I am a proponent of the 2nd Amendment but I think that people place too much trust in their firearms without proper training.

Recently, I was discussing gun laws and other issues with some gentlemen with whom I used to work.  I live in a state (Utah) that has very liberal gun laws and a LOT of people who carry concealed firearms.  A short 4 hour class with no proficiency testing any adult that is a US Citizen without a felony can carry a concealed weapon in Utah.  This is a scary proposition to many (including me). The men were talking with full confidence about how they feel more safe with their guns.  They referenced a few situations in which some woman had been assaulted and stated with full confidence that if the women had been armed, the assault would not have occurred.  I explained to them that it is more important to have situational awareness than it is to have a weapon.   Any person with combat experience, or any police officer will tell you that, while a weapon may be an important tool in some circumstances, it is situational awareness that keeps you safe.

Whether we are talking about maritime security, data security, or personal protection, it is important that the value of security controls are kept in perspective.  Just because a person is carrying a pistol does not mean it is appreciably safer to talk through Mogadishu, or a bad part of any big city.  A ship employing armed guards is still well advised to adhere to the BMP and not travel low and slow through pirate infested waters.   The challenge with many companies and people is that the gain a false sense of security in the overconfidence they have in their security controls and they ignore the importance of situational awareness and sound tactics and movement.

I am frequently asked if I carry a gun since it is legal in Utah.  My answer is “no” or “rarely” (sometimes if I an traveling in remote areas with my family I will keep on in my car legally).  When asked why, I simply say that I would rather rely on not getting myself into trouble in the first place.  I have been asked by people what my feelings were on self defense classes.   My thought is that they can expose people to greater risk because people are inclined to over estimate their abilities and allow themselves to get into dangerous situations by thinking that their new found skills will allow them to fight off an attacker.

Here is a quick example.  I took Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for a while back in the 1990s.  There was one class per week focused only on takedowns.  Since the class was at an odd time during the day it was usually not well attended.  I showed up with my very new, very white belt on and there was a female purple belt attending who was getting ready to test for her brown belt.  Since we were the only two people in attendance, we were going to practice our takedowns on each other.  At the time I weighed about 185 lbs and this woman was probably 135.  While I was brand spanking new to martial arts, I had wrestled competitively for many years and was a very sound wrestler having qualified for the state tournament and set numerous high school records. I was also a former Marine and had been in more than my fair share of real fights.  The brownbelt teaching the class knew this.  I politely suggested to the purple belt that we go “light” on the takedowns.  Since I had 50 lbs on her and had years of experience with takedowns, I felt it was appropriate.  The purple belt was immensely offended and told me in no uncertain terms that she would have no problem “handling any whitebelt!”.   She may have known more BJJ than me, but it was an unfair fight from the outset.  My wrestling experience coupled with the weight and strength advantage allowed me to throw her with out too much effort.  After being thrown rather roughly on the mat 10 times straight, the purplebelt walked out in a huff.

So what is the point of this story?  Simple.  It is a good example of overconfidence in ‘weapons’ or ‘training’ that caused the person to lose perspective on the situation.  The purple belt looked at me, saw a new whitebelt and immediately sized me up as being less capable than her.  She calculated that her 4 years or so of BJJ would allow her to easily overcome a person that weighed 50 lbs more, irrespective of my background.  She did not bother to inquire as to my background or even consider how much larger or stronger I was.  Imagine a similar situation playing out in a parking lot with a person with bad intentions.  Instead of running or screaming to get away from a dangerous situation, I can imagine this person deciding that she could ‘handle any non BJJ’ person and getting much more than simply embarrassed in a gym.

In much the same way, I explain to people that a gun is a tool.  It is a tool of last resort when everything else has failed.  I have demonstrated to people how easy it is to disarm someone with a weapon if they don’t know what they are doing.  Here is an exercise you an practice to understand the point.  DO NOT USE A REAL GUN!…again NO REAL GUNS!

Using a toy gun (capgun, plastic gun etc.) have someone stand in front of you with the pistol pointed at you from a distance of about two feet from the barrel of the toy (no real guns) to your body.  Keeping your arms at your side, tell the person to say ‘bang’ when they see you move.  Take your dominant hand and try to grab the weapon as fast as you can and move it away from you.  If you don’t do it immediately, you will see that with very little practice you are able to grab the fake gun and move it into a direction where it will not shoot you before they can ever say ‘bang’.   People normally realize at this point that a gun is not foolproof.  The point to this example is situational awareness. If you allow someone with bad intentions to get within a few feet of you, your gun is almost useless.  If the weapon is in a holster and concealed it is fair to say that a person within 10 feet could close the distance before the person with the gun could ever get the weapon out and in a position to be used.

The end result is that being aware of the environment and keeping situational awareness is much more important that being armed.  It is a much better option to avoid danger and take steps to extricate yourself than it is to rely upon any tool (weapon, martial arts training, armed guards) to protect you after you are involved in a bad situation.


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