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                                             by Tom Givens

   When a responsible person first begins going armed, he is usually haunted 
by two recurring questions, or self-doubts:

1.  If I'm really attacked, and my life is at stake, will I be able to handle it?
2.  What if I screw up and kill an innocent person?

   This is a normal reaction, and to a degree it is healthy. We do, however, 
need to address these issues and resolve them, before a conflict, so that they 
will not raise their ugly heads when we should be concentrating on winning the
fight. Remember, if an unavoidable fight is thrust upon us, we MUST WIN! The
alternative can be death, or crippling injury.

   The first issue to face is that of FEAR. Fear is a normal reaction to 
physical violence for most people. In addition, since most of us no longer
have military experience and live in "civilized" surroundings, we may not have
ever actually engaged in a true fight before our moment of truth in a criminal
attack. This fear of the unknown is, for many, worse than the fear of being
hurt or killed. 

   First, let me say this. Unless you are an exceptional person, a nutcase, or
a liar, and you have actually been involved in armed conflict, you have tasted
fear. I'm not ashamed to say I have been scared several times, and I fully expect
to be scared again before my life is over. What you must learn to do is control
your fear, and do what you must to win.

   Fear can be controlled and overcome, even in life threatening circumstances.
This is obviously true, and it is proven every day by hundreds of ordinary people
all over the country. Here are some steps you can take to make this process easier:

1.  Admit to yourself you are afraid, then move on. Concentrate your mental 
    energies on the task at hand, not on your fear of death, injury, or loss of ego.
2.  Avoid dwelling on the chance of failure.  Concentrate on finding a way to win.
3.  Take control of yourself. Autogenic breathing is the very best and most efficient
    way to do this. (Details later)
4.  Focus on getting the job done.
5.  Have a Plan B. Always, always, always expect Plan A to fail. Expect your gun to
    malfunction. Expect the suspect to stay up after being hit solidly. Expect to be
    injured. If any of these things occur, have a pre-planned plan B to continue.
6.  Turn anger into a motivator. Who does this clown think he is?!?  What makes him
    think he has the right to (rob/rape/kill/ pick one) me?!?
7.  Accept an element of fate in every situation. You can get hurt by accident after
    doing everything right.  Control everything you CAN control (selection of equipment, 
    getting adequate training and practice, being alert, thinking tactically) so there
    are fewer things you CAN NOT control.

   Courage under fire is not a matter of being without fear. It is a matter of being
able to control fear and accomplish your mission, which is to stay alive. Only fools
are fearless.

   The other nagging self doubt concerns over-reacting and shooting someone under 
unjustifiable circumstances. If you are reading this, that will not happen. Citizens
who are responsible enough to obtain carry permits, seek expensive training, make time
for practice sessions, etc. are simply too honest, caring, and self disciplined to
shoot people without just cause. In my own state, there have been eight fatal shootings
by permit holders in the past three years. Every single one was judged to be justifiable
and lawful by the Attorney General's office. Not one of these permit holders was charged
with any crime nor were they sued for anything. Why? Because every single case was
clear-cut, obvious, and morally, legally, and ethically justified. Private citizens have
a great reluctance to shoot, even when it is necessary.  In fact, for many the problem
they will face is the exact opposite of being "trigger happy".  Believe it or not, every
day, people who are armed and know how to use their weapons, and who have an opportunity
to use their weapons to save their lives, fail to do so and die as a result. This happens
to both private citizens and police officers alike.

   You ask, "Why would someone who is armed stand there and literally watch a thug kill
him?". There are numerous reasons, and they stem from the socialization process that the
normal person goes through from birth (but that the criminal does not). These reasons most
often include:

1.  Moral repugnance to taking a life: You have been taught all of your life that human
    life is sacred, that to kill is wrong, and that only bad people hurt others.
2.  Failure to be mentally prepared: An astonishing number of people who go armed have
    never given any thought whatsoever to the fact that they may have to shoot someone. To
    many, the gun is a talisman, and wearing it is thought to ward off evil spirits. In
    fact, it is a tool, one used for introducing ballistic apertures into the subcutaneous
    environment of sociopaths who cannot be stopped by other means.
3.  Failure to understand the dynamics of armed confrontations: Many people armed with
    firearms are killed by thugs armed with edged weapons because they fail to take the
    "lesser" weapon seriously; they don't understand that deadly force is deadly force,
    whether applied by gun or knife; and they don't realize how quickly someone at ten
    feet can appear at one foot.
4.  Inhibition by community pressure and fear of lawsuits:  These are trivial matters
    compared to being killed, raped, or permanently crippled. Get your priorities straight!
    Unless you are alive, these don't matter, anyway.
5.  Uncertainty about when deadly force is justified: This is a training issue. Be certain
    that you understand the laws of your state as they apply to self defense and the use of
    deadly force. Once you have internalized this information, it is simple and easy to see
    when the circumstances fit the law. There is nothing subtle about someone actually trying
    to kill you! It will be obvious to you, to any witnesses, and to the police. (See chapter
    on The Use of Force)

   The best way to be fully mentally prepared to actually press that trigger if you have to,
is to develop a well thought out and plainly stated set of rules of engagement, long before
you are faced with a crisis. This is referred to as a "pre-made decision", thought out,
verbalized, and firmly planted in your mind in advance. 

   I suggest the rules of engagement set out by fellow trainer Gabriel Suarez, a decorated
veteran of several police gunfights and a world class firearms instructor. Gabe uses the 
acronym IDOL, which stands for "Immediate Defense of Life".  Make a commitment you will only
fire as a desperate measure to terminate a threat to your own life, or the life of an innocent
third party.  If you pose an imminent, otherwise unavoidable threat to my life, or that of an
associate (wife, partner, etcetera). I will act swiftly and decisively to put you down and out. I
will reach for my gun for no other reason, period.

   Many people think about this incorrectly. They ask themselves, "If he does ----, can I
shoot him?". That is a recipe for disaster! Your question should ALWAYS be, " Do I HAVE to
shoot him?".  Ask yourself, "If I don't shoot him, right here, right now, will I be killed
or crippled?".  If the answer is Yes, shoot him!  If the answer is No, try something else.

   As with most things, this is a matter of training. Proper training ingrains the proper 
responses. Repetition  is the mother of all skill. With skill comes confidence. With
confidence comes the ability to think under pressure and make sound tactical decisions.

   To be of value to you, training must meet the test of the Three R's. Training must be 

                             RELEVANT        REALISTIC        RECENT

   Relevant training refers to exercises and skill drills pertinent to the task of self
defense. Bullseye shooting training, for instance, is not particularly relevant.

   Realistic training is conducted on humanoid targets, from the holster, with a carry
type gun and full power ammunition, in varied lighting conditions, and under time pressure.

   Recent training assures retention of motor skills which degrade quickly. The skills
involved in rapidly firing a full-power weapon with precision are perishable, and are lost
completely without frequent practice. I suggest two or three sessions of dry practice at
home each week, with at least one range session per month to maintain competency. Practice
builds skill, skill builds confidence.  Having a well developed skill set, and the
confidence that well developed skill engenders, can help you keep your head and stay in
control during highly stressful conflicts. "An amateur practices until he gets it right.
A professional practices until he can't get it wrong."