“A lot of people think they are prepared to defend themselves simply because they are able to stand at the range on a calm day and hit a target at 7 yards. That’s a little like thinking you are prepared to play in the NBA simply because you can usually sink a free throw.”
That’s what I wrote on Cornered Cat’s Facebook page yesterday. One of the people who saw that post complained that it might discourage people from trying to defend themselves at all. “All things have to start somewhere,” she wrote. “Reading that comment may now put a lot of people off from even starting to be able to defend themselves.”
My response to her on FB probably sounded short and abrupt (the venue does not exactly lend itself to long, thoughtful replies…) but I did understand and sympathize with what she was saying. The funny thing is, that same idea is one I’ve often struggled as I’ve worked to find my voice and my place in this community. So even though I ultimately disagree with her answer, I join her in admiring the question. How can an ethical person tell others that it is foolish to carry a gun without good training, when we know that saying so will cause some people not to carry a gun at all? It would be one thing if we knew that everyone who saw those words would be motivated to do the work, instead of put off by the idea that work may be involved. But we don’t know that. We know that some people will simply give up when we tell them it will take effort to get where they need to go. So how dare we take that risk?
I’m going to explain my answer to this dilemma by telling you a story. It’s really someone else’s story, not mine. But it might show you where I’m coming from a little better, so I’m going to tell you about a woman I met when I took my first class from Massad Ayoob nearly a dozen years ago.
Back then, Ayoob’s core class was called LFI-1, but it has since evolved into MAG-40. Ayoob takes his students through an incredibly tough, eye-opening journey during the 40 hours they spend with him. He forces them to confront the legal, ethical, and social ramifications of using deadly force, and provides answers to many questions that most of his students have never realized they should have asked themselves before picking up a defensive firearm. Many students find their first exposure to Ayoob’s course material both mind-blowing and emotionally grueling, as this woman did. In fact, she found her first trip through the class so upsetting that she went home, took her little snubby revolver out of her purse, and put it away in her safe. “I carried it a lot. Not every day, but a lot,” she told me, “and I had never, ever thought about what it would mean to use it!”
That’s not the end of the story.
The woman left her snubby in the safe for nearly two months, while she worked through some of the questions Ayoob’s class had raised in her head. She talked with her pastor and with her family members. She did some real soul-searching about that deadly weapon she owned. She did not just think hard about whether to carry the gun. She even wondered if she should get rid of all the guns in her home. It’s safe to say that she was really upset and really teetered on the edge of giving up entirely.
But that’s not the end of the story, either.
After working through all her questions, this woman did not put her old snubby back into her purse. Instead, she went shopping for a gun she could use better and would practice with more faithfully. She ended up with a mid-sized pistol that held more rounds than her snubby, and she also bought a good on-body holster. She made the commitment to carry that gun on her body every day, everywhere it was legal. She decided to learn as much as she reasonably could about defensive firearm use, and she set a schedule so she would practice regularly. In other words, after she faced her doubts and her fears, she had a much stronger commitment to doing whatever it takes to get home safely to her family and friends—and she was much, much better prepared to do so from a place of knowledge and skill.
Maybe that sounds like a poor trade off to you. Was that risk, the risk that she might never pick up the gun again, really worth it? What kind of an instructor would do that to a student? Isn’t it a trainer’s job to improve their students’ confidence, not to destroy it?
Well, yes. All that is true. But it still sounds right to me. Because by the end of the summer, that woman ended up in a much safer and better place than she had been in the early spring. It took time, and work, and emotional risk. It wasn’t easy. She had to travel through some ugly and scary territory. But when she got there, the journey was worth it to her.
Confronting students and potential students with reality is always dangerous, especially when it’s so easy for them to retreat to a fantasy. Fantasy is everywhere. The idea that we can easily keep ourselves safe without any work? That’s a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy that sells very, very well. Just take a look at some of the ridiculous “self defense” gadgets on the market and you’ll see what I mean. Fantasy sells.
Let’s bring all that together and wrap this thing up. The truth is, I’ve come to realize that my adult students are adults. As adults, they will always make their own choices and face their own challenges and come to their own decisions about how to meet those challenges. Ultimately, I am not responsible for their choices. I am not responsible for the decisions other people make with the information I supply. But as a defensive firearms trainer, I am absolutely obligated to give them good, honest information that works in the real world. That’s a heavy obligation all on its own.
Fantasy sells, but uncomfortable truths save lives.