The Cornered Cat
Niven’s Law #17

17) No technique works if it isn’t used.  

If that sounds simplistic, look at some specifics: Telling friends about your diet won’t make you thin. Buying a diet cookbook won’t either. Even reading the recipes doesn’t help. Knowing about Alcoholics Anonymous, looking up the phone number, or even jotting it down won’t make you sober. Buying weights doesn’t get you muscles. Signing a piece of paper doesn’t cause a cease-fire, even if you make lots of copies and tell every anchorperson on Earth. Endlessly studying designs for spacecraft won’t put anything in orbit.   

~ Larry Niven’s Laws, 2002 Edition         

It’s amazing how many people think that buying a gun will enable them to protect their own lives at the moment they need it. But it won’t, not if …

  • the gun is locked up at home and you’re 30 miles away from it when you need it most.
  • you never saw danger coming, because you put all your trust in the presence of the gun and never bothered to learn when and where violent crimes happen most often in your environment.
  • you freeze, because you never really expected danger and hadn’t ever really pictured what fighting back might look like.
  • you don’t have the internal resolve to fight back in any case.
  • you can’t bring yourself to pull the trigger when pulling the trigger is what’s needed.
  • you haven’t practiced drawing the gun enough to do so quickly, smoothly, and without any hesitation even when you’re scared and fumbly.
  • you haven’t handled the gun so many times, and in so many different situations, that you can focus all of your attention on solving the problem in front of you, and instead must devote your full attention to remembering how to make the gun work.
  • you don’t have the physical skill to hit what you intend to hit.
  • … and on, and on, and on.

Sitting in front of a computer screen reading an article about self defense might help you figure out your own internal dynamics well enough to solve some of these problems – if you follow up your reading with careful, personal thought about how it applies to you.

Watching someone else do the skills on a video might sometimes help you figure out ways to do the things you want to do – but only if you follow up by making the effort to teach your hands how to do the things your eyes just saw. Watching someone else play the piano on YouTube does not make you a piano player.

In the end, the only way to get up to speed with your gun-handling is to, you know, actually handle a gun. Load and unload your gun often enough that loading the gun doesn’t take all your thought, or even most of it. Practice a smart, safe drawstroke often enough that lazy holstering habits won’t bite you in the leg after they blow a hole in your holster. Practice fast, accurate shooting at realistic targets. Shoot from various distances, from various positions, while moving or kneeling or standing or crouching, while your targets are moving or partly obscured or dimly lit. Practice your skills intelligently enough that you build efficient responses to danger, responses that you can call on even when you’re tired, frightened, overwhelmed, and taken by surprise.

You want the gun to save your life? It won’t. It can’t. It’s just an inanimate object.

Watching other people use guns on YouTube won’t save you, either. Your favorite shooting celebrity isn’t going to be there to save your life when you need it. You will.

Ultimately, it all comes down to you and your skills. Not the skills you’ve read about somewhere. Not the skills you’ve seen others demonstrate. Not even the things you were able to do once, on a lucky day at the range a few years ago. The only skills you can rely on are the ones you’ve practiced often enough that you can do them in your sleep without half trying.

Get to the range on a regular basis. Practice solid, reliable techniques that hold up well under stress. Practice them often enough that you can free your mind to think about other things while you’re shooting, so that your brain can solve the survival problem while your hands do what they know must be done. Practice the right things, often and well.

And every so often, learn something new, and practice that.

One Response to Niven’s Law #17

  1. wkeller says:

    Exactly! I think the hardest thing for folks to do is to make the mental step that – yes – they may actually have to use their defensive weapon to save their life . . . it can be a tough thing to wrap your head around.

    Good article!

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