Daily Archives: May 4, 2011

The Survival Mentality

(Originally written four years ago today, in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech nutcase rampage. The principles don’t get old…posted partly to remind myself)

I decided not to write about the murders at Virginia Tech right away–I had a pretty good idea of what was coming from the media, and the political class, and the only pleasant surprise there were the low key, limited cries for gun confiscation from the Democrats. The New York Times editorial was utterly predictable, which is why I don’t read that particular paper anymore; I recall that information theory says that a signal only conveys information if it contains unexpected data. And the MSM and most politicians have nothing unexpected to contribute, anymore.

I’m not interested in writing about media coverage today, anyway. I’m going to write about survival.

Conventional wisdom about aircraft hijackings used to be that passengers and crew should obey orders and act like good little sheeple until negotiations resulted in their release, hopefully with minimal casualties. This worked, most of the time, because most hijackers wanted achieve some objective that didn’t include their personal obliteration. It’s a commonplace now that after 9/11 passengers and crew will never again be so cooperative. Tragically, as the events at Virginia Tech show, this mentality hasn’t been fully accepted and integrated by enough individuals to make a difference in a non-hijack situation.

DISCLAIMER: As you consider what follows,┬ákeep in mind that I am not a black belt in any unarmed combat art, though I have had some training. I’m not a certified firearms instructor, though I’m quite familiar with most major weapons systems, and am a competent marksman. I’ve never had to fight for my life against an armed assailant, and fervently hope never to confront that necessity in the future.

I am a student of human history and the human mind, and based on what I know I’d like to offer some thoughts on the proper mindset, and actions to be considered, should you ever have to deal with a madman with a gun, whether at work, school or in some other setting.

The first, absolute and non-negotiable thing you must do is refuse to be a “victim.” The victim mentality is evident when a person obeys orders that he is fairly sure are going to lead to his own death. For example, a van pulls up next to you on the street and a man points a gun at you and orders you to get in. You DO NOT get in, as the odds are high that you will meet a horrible, painful death if you do so. Instead, you drop, roll, spin, run away weaving and screaming bloody murder.

It is important to note here that handguns are involved in the vast majority of school and workplace attacks, carjackings and other public violent crime. Handguns are extraordinarily difficult to shoot accurately, especially at distances greater than a few yards and at moving targets. In most cases, if one takes sudden evasive action at a decent distance your average psychopath is not going to be able to hit you with a shot from a handgun. If he does hit you, even with a torso shot, the odds are at least even money that you will survive. If you stand still and let him control the situation, the odds are very, very poor for you–as so many found out in Virginia that day.

There’s no way that I can attempt to cover the great variety of tactical situations that you might face in this gravest of extremes, so I will outline what I would advise you to do were you to find yourself in a situation similar to that at Virginia Tech. First, clearly, at the earliest sign of trouble or sound of gunfire I would have fled the building and not stopped until I was a mile away–that’s almost too obvious to need restating. Yet, there are many situations on record where people, even after the warning signs were glaringly obvious, did not flee the scene in time. Many of us live much of our waking lives in a mild haze, a routine, and don’t pick up subtle clues until it’s too late. So first, be aware, as much of the time and as keenly as you can manage as you concentrate on the routine business of living.

Let’s move to the worst possible scenario, though; you’re in a classroom, or office, a gunman is in the hall firing, you can’t get out the window safely and you don’t have a firearm available. Here is where your mind and heart and courage, your mental preparation for this moment in time will give you the best chance of survival. This where you are going to refuse the victim role.

Obviously, if the door has a lock it’s locked by now, but that’s not stopping this killer. There’s a terrible clamor as rounds are fired at the handle and a tremendous crash as the door is kicked open.

You are not cowering under a desk hoping against hope that he will not notice you, or spare you if he sees you. You are behind cover, if there is any available, out of the line of fire through the door at a ninety degree angle to the side of the door that opens, and if the killer enters the room you are ready with your weapons, a chair a desk a backpack a telephone, anything big and heavy enough to look as if it would hurt, and as he takes the first step in that room you stay low and you start throwing things at his head like you’re Nolan Freaking Ryan, or sliding a table right at his crotch like a freight train. You are taking the initiative, unbalancing the psycho bastard, who has so far encountered nothing like this, and whose scenario only includes a feeling of absolute power over his chosen victims. He may fire wildly as he tries to duck; he may not even get off a shot in his surprise as you close on his sorry form. His aim will be bad and his mind will be in turmoil, but you know what you’re about; you’re about to take him OUT.

Hopefully, you have some kind of club or like object, but I don’t care if all you have is a stapler, or your bare hands; you come at him like his own doom, as fast and low as possible, as almost all shots under pressure go high. Even trained police officers have been known to fire over the head of the opponent from a few yards away; this guy is not trained, he’s a psycho who thought he was going to hold the power of life and death over a bunch of ciphers. He isn’t going to have factored you in at all.

Now you’re going to get control of the weapon by any means necessary and keep it out of action. If you get both hands on a revolver cylinder the thing isn’t going to fire at all, and if you get a hand on the slide/hammer area of almost any auto pistol it’s only going to be able to fire once. If you’ve got a club of some sort belt down on the wrist as close to the weapon as possible and then when the weapon is pointed away from you go to work on the face, the kneecap or the crotch, whichever is available, immediately and ferociously, but first and foremost keep the weapon unusable. If, thank God, he drops it, kick it away as far as you can.

If you do get shot, just keep going. Too many stupid movies and television programs have given all the wrong impressions about the effects of bullets on people. Much of the time, the person shot can continue to fight. If they’re in the Berserker mode, they may not even notice that they’ve been shot. You are going to be in the Berserker mode. You are going to fight until your strength is completely gone.

By now, if you were in a classroom or office setting with others, they have hopefully come to your aid, for if you had more than a couple of seconds preparation you took leadership and informed them of what you were going to do. If half a dozen people of any age, sex or condition will just fall on the killer, grab his arms, sit on his head, he will find it almost impossible to fire the weapon. Don’t count on anyone or anything else, however; your mentality must be that you are going to win, at any cost, by yourself. Even if all you have is a coffee cup, once you get the advantage, once you have controlled the weapon you are not going to stop, ever, with your coffee cup or your fists and elbows and feet and knees and fingernails and teeth until the vermin is unconscious or dead. I emphasize that again: You will not stop if he is crying, you will not stop if he is cowering with his hands over his face. Unconscious or dead, those are the options he has chosen for himself; and if you, through your efforts, get his weapon in your hands and it will fire, you will shoot him in the chest and continue to shoot until the weapon is empty, regardless of anything, of what he or anyone else says, or does. You must have this mentality, throughout the entirety of this situation, if you are to succeed in saving your own life and the lives of your classmates and coworkers.

I’m not talking about technique or training, though these would obviously be so very valuable in this kind of situation. I’m talking about a state of mind. I don’t care if you’re a 110-pound woman, a 70-year-old man, overweight, diabetic and a smoker.

You may not succeed; you may die. But if you cower in a corner you’re going to get shot in the face, or the back, and you are almost certainly going to die. If you can safely run, run. If you can safely hide, or barricade yourself, do it. But don’t let them find you later with a hole through your hands where you tried to stop a bullet.

If you’re going to die anyway, die trying. You’re going to give yourself one hell of a lot better chance of living.