It’s Not What’s On Your Hip, It’s What’s In Your Head.

There’s a recurrent meme going on in today’s gun-related Internet that seems to say, “If you carry more (or more powerful) defensive hardware than me, you’re a paranoid mall ninja, and if you carry less than I do, you’re a pathetic sheeple.” Oh, good Lord….

It was the late, great master instructor Jeff Cooper who popularized a quote from John Steinbeck: “The final weapon is the brain; all else is supplemental.”

For decades now, I’ve taught four priorities for surviving potentially lethal situations. Those priorities are, in order: 1) Mental awareness and preparedness. 2) Proper use of tactics. 3) Skill-sets. 4) Optimum equipment for the predictable threat.

Some think mental awareness and preparedness are two separate things, but I’ve always seen them as two sides of the same coin. When the Japanese planes hit Pearl Harbor, the radar had already caught them coming in…but no one took it seriously. Alertness without preparedness to act upon the stimulus had failed, and we all know the result. Preparedness without alertness is likewise crippled even unto uselessness: you can be a pistol champ with a $3,000 gun at your hip, and if your head is in your butt and you don’t see the danger coming, you’ll be dead before you can begin to reach for that top-grade pistol. Thus, mental awareness and preparedness come together as a single pinnacle priority.

That preparedness, by the way, includes having understood beforehand the terrible legal, emotional, and psychological consequences of having had to use deadly force. When anyone says “We shouldn’t talk about liability or post-traumatic stress, because that will make people hesitate to save their lives,” I want to puke. If you haven’t considered those factors beforehand, and learned to a certainty they can be dealt with, and how to do that, when you face something as cosmic as killing another member of your species and society, you are more likely to hesitate at the “moment of truth” … a moment when, indeed, “He who hesitates is lost.”

Survival Vs. Killing

Because so much defensive firearms training focuses on shooting into humanoid targets, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that the object of the exercise is to centerpunch the opponent. No! The objective is to keep all the good people alive and unharmed. Getting to cover, extricating from the situation, and taking things from there is often more likely to ensure survival than to stand in place and shoot at multiple opponents, who are also shooting at you.

The wisest, most advanced black belts in every martial art will tell you that not being where the other man can kill you is the surest way of not being killed. That said, though, there are often times when the surest way to keep from being killed is to neutralize those who are trying to do that. It is historically an extremely effective way to keep from being murdered. However, to be able to achieve that, we often have to first maneuver into a position where he can’t neutralize us before we neutralize him.

Leaning out from replicated cover of doorway, this shooter (above) demonstrates both tactics and defensive shooting skill with his Glock 23.

Skill Sets

We must have skill with the safety equipment, which includes, but is not limited to, the firearm. Hand to hand combat must often be employed. One good friend of mine not only survived but totally dominated an encounter that started with him being surprised while seated when two men put him in Death’s way. He had to slap the first attacker’s gun aside, off midline of his head, before he could quick-draw his own gun and kill that man instantly with a single shot to the brain. The second bad guy’s day went downhill from there….

Getting the hits requires mindset again. From Wyatt Earp to famed gunfighting Texas Ranger John Hughes to master Border Patrol gunslinger Bill Jordan, the advice that has come down to us from the ages is “Take your time, quick.” When one of those men was asked by his biographer how he could be cool enough to carefully aim and squeeze when men were shooting at him, he replied that this was the whole point: “I shot them while they were shooting at me.”

A cool gun like this Ed Brown signature Model .45 can be a lifesaver, but only when carried with vigilance.

Equipment Selection

Carry equipment appropriate for the predictable threat scenario, and the latter is something only you can decide. When an American military unit is under fire from 500 yards away and the designated sniper takes out the enemy team and saves our people, it’s safe to assume this would not have been a likely outcome if the only return fire had come from a 9mm service pistol. If you’re mugged from behind in an elevator, it’s safe to assume that you not only wouldn’t have a 15-pound .338 Lapua precision rifle hanging on a tactical sling, but that you couldn’t have brought it to bear if you did. If, on the other hand, you had a pistol ready to hand….

Prioritize. Be true to your own carefully assessed needs and “threat profile.” I leave you with the words of Ruth Warners, a career police officer and emergency medical professional who made it through danger to retirement. She said it better than Steinbeck did. “Your mind is your weapon,” she advised the rookies. “Decide to survive!”
By Massad Ayoob

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One thought on “Mindset

  1. Right Way

    Once I decided to carry a gun for defensive purposes, I also decided to read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I have also taken quite a few classes and try to train under a competent instructor at least once a quarter.
    I purchased Lt Col Dave Grossman’s “Bulletproof Mind”. Both of Massad’s books, Lt Jeff Cooper’s books, The Gunslinger’s Bible and many others as well as many others. I read something gun or training related almost daily and I still feel woefully unprepared. I hunted as a boy, but the decades between then and now had no firearms in them, so now I’m making up for lost time. I now sell products to help people train in their home. Anything we can to our “I refuse to be a victim” tool chest daily is well worth the money and time spent.


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