Thursday, December 27, 2012

What are YOU going to do?

The Newtown Connecticut School shootings hit me on many levels. When I first heard, I struggled to even tell my wife about what happened. Our two oldest, second and fifth grade, were at school and I was a few hours from being able to see them.

I have walked many paths in my head in these past weeks. As a parent, I wanted to lock my children in a closet and not let them out. As a cop, I wondered if it might have been different if every school had an officer on campus. As a self-defense and combatives coach, I’ve had many conversations and listened to and read tons of opinions on what could have or will prevent this type of thing in the future. As a citizen, I have wondered if our government has done enough to prevent these massacres.

I get most of my news from the Internet. I don’t have a TV so I try to surf the news sites every day. Honestly though, most times I read about an event on Facebook and have to look it up on a more legitimate site. Since the shootings, my newsfeed has been bombarded by photos and comments from pro-gun and anti-gun friends. The debate gets heated and sometimes nasty and personal. Interesting, since both sides goal should simply be the safety of our kids.  

I own guns. I use them in my job. I think they are a valuable tool in the right hands to protect oneself and others. I don’t think, however, that hiring an armed guard at every school is the fix -- there were two armed guards at Columbine. I don’t think issuing every teacher a gun is the right answer -- or even every teacher who wants one. I do wish though, that that heroic principal in Newtown, Dawn Hochsprung, had been armed. She died when she heard gunshots and ran toward the danger and attacked the threat. She died a warrior and protector.

I consider my wife a pretty good barometer of common sense and was somewhat surprised when she said she doesn’t think she would want armed teachers in our kids schools. I asked if I was a teacher, would she want me armed? She agreed that was different. She knew about my training and preparation. It wasn’t the gun that concerned her, it was the training and preparation of the teacher she had doubts on.

There has been a lot of chatter about the National Rifle Association and their stance. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” It is a catchy phrase and strikes at us viscerally, but it is not statistically accurate. In my search of just school shootings, it turns out that most of them were ended by the bad guy with the gun, taking his own life. When they were ended by a good guy,the good guy was rarely armed with anything other than indignation and purpose, not a gun. I researched some of the school shootings. While the following information was found through Internet research, I did my best to corroborate it with news articles from legitimate news sources. I did not research all active shooter situations, but limited the search to schools.

  • September 12, 2012, Normal Community School, Normal, Illinois - Student armed with a handgun, a hatchet and a canteen full of Kerosene fired off a round at the ceiling. He was stopped when a teacher tackled him. No injuries or deaths.

  • August 27, 2012, Perry Hall High School, Perry Hall, Maryland - 15-year-old student started shooting in the cafeteria. He was stopped when a high school counselor grabbed him and pinned him to the wall. Investigators believed the victim, a 17-year-old, was a random target. The victim survived and there were no deaths.

  • February 27, 2012 Chardon School, Chardon, Ohio -- A high school student killed three and wounded three others before he was chased from the cafeteria by an assistant football coach. The coach, Frank Hall had to dive behind vending machines to avoid being shot as the fleeing boy fired at him. The suspect was caught moments later down the street from the school.

  • October 8, 2010, Kelley Elementary School, Carlsbad, CA -- A 41-year-old man started shooting into a crowd of students, injuring two. He was stopped when three construction workers working in the area saw him walking across the field shooting randomly. One jumped in his van and ran into the shooter knocking him down. The others jumped on him and subdued him until police arrived. The shooter had pockets full of ammunition.
  • February 23, 2010, Deer Creek Elementary School, Littleton, CO -- A 32-year-old shooter walked on a campus with an AK-47 and shot two students. Seventh grade math teacher David Benke, a 6-foot-5 inch former college basketball player who oversees the school's track team, tackled the suspect as he was trying to reload his weapon. Both victims survived.

  • September 29, 2006, Weston High School, Cazenovia, Wisconsin  --  A freshman student entered the school and pointed a shotgun at a teacher. The school custodian, Dave Thompson, wrestled the shotgun away from him. The suspect, still armed with a handgun was then physically confronted by the principal, John Klang. Klang was shot in the ordeal and later died but he and other students were able to subdue the suspect until police arrived.

  • March 14, 2006, Pine Middle School, Reno, NV -- a 14-year-old brought a gun to school and randomly shot two classmates. He was confronted by a female PE teacher, who convinced him to drop the gun and “bear hugged” him until police arrived.

  • February 2, 1996, Frontier Middle School, Moses Lake Washington - A 14-year-old student killed three and injured one when he brought a rifle and two handguns on to campus. He was eventually wrestled to the ground and detained by gym teacher Jon Lane who went to the classroom after he heard gunshots.

My search was not exhaustive. Most of the incidents I researched were stopped when the shooter killed himself. I found none where an armed security officer or police officer stopped the attacks while they were happening.

These types of attacks, especially at our schools, are horrific. We need to do anything we can to stop them. If I thought tighter gun laws would fix it, I’d be on the steps of the capitol building screaming for change. If I thought armed guards in schools were the answer, I’d be screaming for that. But I truly believe both of those answers are a knee jerk reaction to a greater cultural problem.

The pro-gun people are right. Laws don’t stop bad guys from getting guns anymore than they keep them from getting drugs. While laws may prevent more “legal” guns from entering the system, there are already so many guns in this country that we can’t legislate the change.

Armed cops or security guards in every school won’t do it either. A motivated bad guy who knows that the armed officer is there, is just going to start his ambush there. Eliminate the resistance first.

Besides it takes more than a gun. A gun is nothing more than a tool, like a hammer or a saw. Putting a gun in someone’s hands no more makes them a warrior than a hammer or saw makes a carpenter. It took time and training and practice to learn to build a house or a cabinet. They weren’t born knowing how to cut and hammer. Warriors, too, are built.

People that think just having a gun makes them safer are the same people who think you can lose weight from a pill, or get stronger or fitter by drinking three shakes a day. Like everything, there are no instant fixes, no 8-minute abs. We are back to the cultural problem. And I am not talking about the culture that produces someone who would commit these atrocities. That is another problem

I believe that we need to rethink our idea of “first responders.”

Semantically, a responder is one who “exhibits some action or effect as if in answer.” Someone who acts. In those examples above, the first responders were teachers, construction workers and custodians. Those people all acted in self-defense. They saw “self” in the greater sense of “self” as their community. My self-defense coach, Tony Blauer teaches the Be Your Own Bodyguard principle. We all want the cavalry to rush in but let’s face it, sometimes --  most times -- you may be on your own. No matter your occupation, you are the first responder.

I am not saying we shouldn’t arm teachers, but that is a discussion for another time. First we need to arm them with knowledge. We need to arm them with what Coach Blauer refers to as indignation -- “That how dare you?” mindset. We need to arm them with fear management skills, so that they can break the freeze and act. We need to arm them with a realistic plan that doesn’t involve calling 9-1-1 and waiting for cops. Without that indignation, fear management and a plan, that gun in their pocket or purse would be useless. With those skills, they will act like those custodians, construction workers and teachers did, like that principal in Newtown did.

Yes, we need to stop marginalizing mental health care and the mentally ill. Yes, we need better community intervention for our troubled youth. Yes, I wish we could make sure that all the gun laws we have are rigorously enforced and bad guys can’t get them but really, bad guys will always have access to weapons - be they hammers, knives, fertilizer or guns. Yes, it would be nice to have an armed and righteous warrior on every corner and in every classroom. Yes, I wish every school had a comprehensive and realistic plan for emergencies. Yes, we need to address video game and media violence. These are all important social goals. As a community and a nation, we should always work toward that. If you are the political sort, get active. Work for change.

But the cultural change, I am talking about is one of personal responsibility. In the end, no law, cop, legislator, or political group has more responsibility for keeping you and your family safe than you. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you.

The cultural change is, as a people, deciding to take responsibility to protect ourselves, not waiting for someone else to do it for us. If you decide a gun is the best choice for your personal defense, get one and train the ethical, legal, emotional, psychological and physical skills needed. Don’t just shoot a few holes in a piece of paper and drop it in your purse figuring it is there if you need it.

If guns aren’t your thing. Seek out ways to increase your awareness. Develop a plan to act if something horrible should happen. Talk about that plan with your kids and your family. It doesn’t have to take over your life but spending a few minutes talking or hours training is not paranoid. Build scenarios in your head and work through them. Take that responsibility and do something. Find ways to find indignation, manage fear and develop a plan to live ready.

Don’t wait for someone else to protect you -- a cop, congress, the NRA. Let’s face it no one has more at stake in your safety and that of your loved ones than you. It is your life, your children, your family -- your responsibility. Personally, I wouldn’t trust that to anyone else.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Thoughts on Colorado ...

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” ― Heraclitus

As a cop and self-defense coach, I feel like I am supposed to meditate on the theater shootings that happened last week in Aurora, Colorado. And while I have been thinking and reading and talking about the tragedy a lot over the past few days, I am not doing it so much in my role as a police officer or coach. I am thinking about it as it relates to my duties as a father, husband or friend.

I have tried to visualize myself in that theater in almost all possible scenarios: alone, with my wife, with my kids, armed, unarmed, in the front row, in the back row. What if someone I am with takes the first bullet? My wife? My son? In any of those scenarios, the primary goal is obvious – preservation of myself and my family. For me, as a cop, there is also the goal of protecting the innocents as well.

I know little about what happened aside from what we had have read in the reports so my perspective comes from speculation based on the news stories. My thought and intention is not to point out what anyone did or didn’t do that was wrong – truth is, until you have been there, no one knows how they will react – but I want to sort out my thoughts about it to build a road map for me and my family to follow if we ever find ourselves in a similar situation.

I am not looking to insert myself in the debate over concealed carry or gun laws. That is for the smarter, more political folks than me. I understand that the theater was a “No Carry” zone but I have yet to hear anyone that was there say that they would have been armed had it not been for the ordinance. I have read a lot of blogs and opinion pieces that stated that things would have been different if there had been just one armed citizen in the theater.

From all the accounts I have read and listening to the police radio traffic, that place was chaos -- Smoke and screaming and gunfire in a darkened theater. The murderer was dressed in ballistic body armor, a gas mask and armed with an assault rifle, shotgun and handguns. While just the image is intimidating, it also doesn’t make for a great target; even for most trained shooters more than a few feet away (I don’t assume theater goers would lug an AR-15 in for personal protection, I'm figuring a handgun). It is probable that even a good guy returning fire may have created additional victims in that chaos.

I worked myself through all the scenarios in my head. I stuffed my wife on the ground and moved toward the shooter. In my scenario, while it was loud, chaotic and smoky for me, so it was for him. I have worn a gas mask before. It constricts your vision. I can only believe he had to fire randomly into the audience. He couldn’t be aiming. This gives me an opportunity to get close. I know I’ll probably get hit but I realize I have to get my hands on him to stop him. If I am armed I have to get close to shoot him. I have to stop him. If not he might shoot my wife. She knows once I touch him, once I have his attention, to run. We’ve talked about it.

But what if I have the kids? My first thought is to be a shield for them. But as I work through that scenario, I see myself covering the kids with my body. Then I realize I am nothing but a target. If I sacrifice myself as a shield, the bad guy still can get them when I am dead. I am not afraid to die to protect them, but I want my sacrifice to get them out of there alive. Once, again, I realize I have to take the fight to him. In fact, as I worked through all the scenarios, the only workable option was to attack, no matter where I was sitting, who I was with or If I was armed or not. Even if my loved one was wounded, medical help can’t get there if this guy is still shooting.

In some of my scenarios, it was tough, hopping seats, dropping to the ground and crawling over people, pushing through them. But I practice a lot of that, hopping and climbing (here is a plug for functional fitness training). In some of my mental pictures it is difficult to get to the shooter. I realize it won’t be easy. It is a crappy situation. As I am working through the scenarios in my head in my backyard sipping a beer, I hear my Coach Tony Blauer repeating his three golden rules for this type of situation:

1) Accept what is happening. Sure, there will be a freeze moment. But I can’t get stuck there. I have to act.

2) Get challenged. It is pretty easy to feel threatened by a body armor/gas-mask clad rifle toting murderer. Coach tells us to see it as a challenge.

3) Keep moving and thinking. I’m not saying it is going to be easy. Getting to the aisle in a packed theater is going to take some work but with the goals I’ve set, there is no other option.

The truth is this whole drill is just a version of a tool Coach Blauer designed for his students called the Cycle of Behavior™. On paper, The Cycle of Behavior is just a flow chart of our mental circuitry and the mental and psychological walls or paths we allow ourselves as we see any given scenario – in this case, a heavily armed sociopath in a crowded theater. In my head, though, it is a road map for me to follow if or when I find myself in a similar situation. I realize this exact scenario will likely never happen to me. But something similar could. The road map will still get me there.

In the Cycle of Behavior, Coach runs us through our motivation, our expectations, our visualizations, beliefs, neuro-associations and FEAR management skills. He shows us how to get through the Challenged or Threatened Door and into action. He teaches us how to not get stuck in the Fear Loop and not to freeze.

I have always considered myself a fighter. I train cops on hand-to-hand combat. I have wrestled since I can remember and coach high school wrestlers. I fought more than 20 professional MMA fights. I have spent a good portion of my life on mats and in rings and cages. I like to hit and I can take a punch. But it wasn't until I understood Coach Blauer's mental approach to street combat training that I realized what my sport training was lacking. The best jab, double leg takedown or arm bar wouldn't have have helped if I didn't put it to use. It isn't hard to figure out when to start fighting in a ring. Listen for the bell. In real life violence, the bell still rings, we just need to train a little differently to hear it.

I can’t second guess anyone who was there or what they did. There may be stories that emerge out of this tragedy of heroics. All I have is a hindsight perspective from an armchair quarterback on how I believe I have trained to re-act in a similar situation.

See, I don’t think several armed people in the theater would have made much of a difference. It was chaos. I do, however, think a difference could have been made by a single trained person. That trained person may or may not have had a gun. It wouldn’t have mattered. What about ten trained warriors deciding to take the fight to that coward?

And I don’t mean the training required to get a CCW. Although important, I don’t mean training as in the ability to consistently hit the little circle on a paper target at the range. I don’t mean training as in, “I hunt, so I am good with guns,” or I was in the military ten years ago. I don’t mean MMA or boxing (although I love them both).

I mean responsible training into real life scenarios. I mean mentally and physically preparing yourself and your family for a horrible situation like this, empowering them with the tools and awareness to find a solution – to get out of there safely. Mental preparation, fear management, functional fitness and principle based tactics are the keys.

I am not a militant. My kids aren’t taught that everyone wants to hurt them. To tell the truth, I may not have even been armed if I was sitting in that theater that night. 

I am sad for the families who lost loved ones or who were affected. I am sorry and sad for the cops and firefighters and medical personnel who had to respond. I am sad for the upcoming debate we will see on the news as to whether this was caused by the fact that some states legally sell assault rifles or by the other fact that the theater disallowed legal concealed carry. I am sad that our country's brightest minds can’t see that changing either law, would have had little or no effect on this tragedy.

I am sad that instead of learning how to become experts ourselves on how to spot these types of things and protect ourselves and our families, we are going to listen to the experts, in their hind-sight wisdom, point out the warning signs we should have seen with this creep.

I am sad that instead of seeing this as a call or opportunity to take responsibility for our own safety, most Americans are simply going to vote for changes in laws or look to a simple “solution” of carrying a weapon, rather than training to be a weapon. Whether it is a friend, a spouse, a child or a neighbor, we all have someone who may need us. Take that responsibility. Seek it out.

Be the one that brings the others home.

Coach Blauer discussing the Cycle of Behavior