The Cornered Cat
Dirty Little Secrets

The dirty little secret about women’s self defense is that women will more often need to defend themselves from people they’ve met – skeevy neighbors, violent exes, nasty stalkers who happen to be formerly sane roommates – than they will from people they’ve never seen before. Somehow, some people with an agenda have often twisted this statistic to imply that an otherwise-justifiable use of force cannot possibly be justified against someone you know… and that’s flat-out not true.

Self-defense against “someone you know” is still self-defense. And a use of force in response to an attack by someone you know is every bit as justifiable (or not, depending on the specific circumstances) as any other act of self-defense.

When you hear someoe try to talk women out of firearms ownership because the gun a woman purchases might be “more likely to be used against someone you know”, remember that [number] many women are killed every year by someone they know.

Self-defense isn’t just about protecting yourself from random strangers who jump out of the bushes to grab you off the sidewalk in the middle of the night. It’s about protecting your life from a violent attacker, no matter who that attacker might be or where that attack might happen. Someone you know can kill you just as stone cold dead as someone you don’t.

That’s the harsh reality we need to face whenever we talk or think about self defense.

If you’ve decided to carry a gun to deal with a known threat, my heart goes out to you. It’s not fair, but here’s the truth: In addition to your heightened risk of attack, you’re also in a much tougher emotional spot than the woman who arms herself just in case random crime strikes her on the street or just in case she runs into unexpected trouble. Although every woman who carries a gun must work through her own moral, ethical, and religious priorities, you have the added burden of thinking specifically about what it would mean to use lethal force against someone you once loved, or someone you used to be friends with, or someone who might even be the father of your own child. Maybe even someone you still love. That’s not an easy thing to think about. Yet think about it you must.

As tough as it is, this means that you must count the cost of defending yourself much more thoroughly and much more painfully than other people might do. And you have to do it right away. You can’t put it off or pretend it isn’t a factor for you. It is a factor, and you know that. And that’s heartbreaking.

This also means that if you know you have a known threat in your life right now, you may have to spend some time sitting alone and examining your own heart, some time talking with a counselor or trusted friend, some time praying or meditating with a clergy member. It means you may need to seek out resources from others. And ultimately it means that you must figure out for yourself what lines you are (and are not) willing to cross in order to protect yourself and the people you love. Again, not an easy job — but certainly a necessary one, as you prepare to defend yourself from a known danger.

If your known threat is someone you currently live with, it gets even tougher. Here’s the awful truth about that: there is no way — literally no way — to make yourself safer by bringing a gun into a home environment that includes another person who is violent and/or abusive. Don’t kid yourself into believing that you can keep a gun around to defend yourself against a violent stranger without your abuser ever getting hands on it. That’s not the way it works. This is why the first step is to make a safety plan that includes finding a safer place to live.

For those who aren’t in that spot, who don’t face a current and known threat, here’s a small dose of depressing reality: nobody plans to move next door to a crazy guy, or purposefully asks a former employee to stalk them, or sets out to have an evicted roommate go violently bonkers. Nobody intends for their own family members to face serious mental health issues, or knowingly marries someone who will later develop a substance abuse problem.

Nobody ever expects it — whatever the situation is, in the beginning — to get as bad as it later does.

That means that every one of us should be willing to do the hard work of thinking these things through. No matter how settled and placid our current circumstances might be. In addition to the (already hard enough) question of whether we are willing to use deadly force to protect our own lives and the lives of people we love, we also need to think about whether we’re willing to use deadly force to protect ourselves against a violent attack from someone we know.

“Them or me is them or me, regardless of how we feel about them when it’s happening,” says my friend and colleague Nick Grossman of Bolt Defense. He’s right. The most important question is not how we might feel about the person who violently attacks us, or what our relationship with them might be. The really important question is, are we willing to do whatever it takes to stay alive and save an innocent life. And that’s a question each of us must ask, and answer, for ourselves.

These things happen across all demographics, regardless of who you are or where you live. Even those who feel no immediate risk can help make themselves safer by learning the warning signs of danger – and by making a commitment now to get out of any relationship that takes a turn towards violence.

Stay safe.

8 Responses to Dirty Little Secrets

  1. larryarnold says:


    One of the memes I hear in self-defense circles is that non-violent conflict resolution training is useless because the person who attacks you will be a criminal and “need shooting.”

    As you’ve said, that’s not usually so.

    “I know how to deescalate conflict, I tried, and he didn’t respond” is a valuable addition to justification of use of force or deadly force.

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