The mental and emotional considerations of using lethal force to protect your home and loved ones after TEOTWAWKI is not going to be as easy, as you have imagined it.
By way of introduction, I am a retired street cop who spent his entire career on the streets of a gang-infested neighborhood in a large, inner city. I have shot people, though none died. On several occasions, I was myself shot at, and I was hit once. I want to share my thoughts and experiences with you, lest you have naïve and unrealistic ideas, which will prove counterproductive, at best, and possibly fatal.
I am not going to address a shooting incident today, when and where there is effective law and order. The venue we will address here will be strictly for a time and place where society has broken down and the rule of law no longer exists. This is only intended to address a post-apocalyptic scenario.
I know. I know. You readily say, “I won’t have any trouble at all shooting riffraff that’s coming after my food or family.” Really? Let’s explore that thought, because here’s the thing– I know you think that, and I know you believe it with all your heart, but may I suggest that a critical component that is necessarily involved in the act of shooting a human being may have been left out of your thought process? This is the potentially fatal flaw for the majority of preppers in a self-defense scenario.
First, let me say up front that while this is based on my first-hand experiences, it is also covered in much more detail in Colonel Dave Grossman’s excellent books On Combat and On Killing and also Warrior’s Mindset by Asken. All of these are MUST reading for anyone who is prepped up on guns, ammo, and attitude. Unless you have been personally involved in shootouts as a cop or firefights as a soldier, you must read these books, but I will condense some of what’s in them and add my own experiences for those who can’t or won’t read three more books.
We think and believe that we live in our conscious world; that’s wrong. We are more what our unconscious mind thinks than who we consciously think we are. Have you ever tried to break a bad habit? Have you ever tried to lose weight or get into better shape? How about making New Year’s resolutions? How did that work out for you? You lose those battles because your unconscious mind is much stronger than your conscious mind, and the unconscious one usually wins. You can make all the conscious decisions you want, but no matter how much determination and willpower you add to that if you don’t get your unconscious mind on board you will likely fail.
So when it comes to shooting another human being, you need to understand the mental and emotional dynamics involved. When cops are on the line at the range, they will consistently hit a man-sized target every time without fail. Yet, statistically on the street, they will miss 75%-80% of the time, and they will miss a target that poses a clear and present danger when they would never miss a piece of paper. Why is that? S.L.A. Marshall did extensive studies and found that during WW II, 90% of the Japanese and German soldiers that were shot by small arms fire, were shot by less than 20% of our soldiers. Please look that up if you don’t believe it, but it’s documented and indisputable. That doesn’t mean the others were cowards, because many were capable of extraordinary acts of bravery, such as running out into the face of enemy gunfire to get to an injured man, for instance. So, if they weren’t cowards and were good shots, why didn’t they shoot an enemy soldier? The now-defunct Rhodesian army pioneered the system of charging directly into the enemy when being ambushed because they took fewer casualties doing that. At the time, they had no idea why it worked, but they knew it worked. What they did figure out was that when you look into a man’s face, it’s harder to shoot him, even if he’s shooting at you. On the world’s battle fields, strewn with casualties even in ancient times, the vast majority of the slaughter came only after the enemy turned and ran. This is counter intuitive if you bought into what Hollywood has taught us, but the truth is that it’s much easier to shoot an enemy in the back than it is to shoot a man at close range in the chest or face, and fear does not change this dynamic. Most of you reading this article are going to think it’s all wrong, so I’m going to burden you with some statistics, because you need to buy into this documented phenomenon, even though Hollywood has poisoned our reasoning and our true history.
Even back to the time of Alexander the Great, in all his massive battles during which he conquered the known civilized world, he lost less than 700 men. Of the slaughter and carnage that followed, the vast majority of the enemy were smitten from behind after the battle was won. During the battle of Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu wars, the English soldiers fired continuously into the packed ranks of Zulus, literally at point blank range knowing that Zulus never take prisoners. Even a 50% hit rate would seem impossible under those circumstances, but when the bodies and the number of separate wounds were counted and the ammo used was checked, the hit rate was 13%! At the battle of Wissembourg in 1870, the dug-in French fired over 48,000 rounds into the German troops, who were advancing packed shoulder to shoulder at a slow walk in an open area, and hit 404 of them. After the battle of Gettysburg 27,574 muskets were recovered from the battlefield. Over 24,000 of those, more than 90%, were fully loaded. Over 12,000 were loaded more than once and over 6,000 were loaded between 3 and 10 times, with one being loaded 23 times. On the black powder field, a loaded weapon is the most precious of commodities, because 95% of a soldier’s time was taken up with the reloading process and only 5% actually firing. Logic and math would require that if those soldiers wanted to kill the enemy, then 95% of the those who were killed would be found with an empty weapon in some stage of being reloaded. Any weapon found fully loaded and ready to fire would have been pure gold on a battlefield, picked up, and used, which further exacerbates the evidence. What happened was that individual soldiers, who couldn’t shoot the enemy, didn’t want to be seen by their comrades doing absolutely nothing, so they occupied themselves loading over and over. During the civil war, the generals on both sides realized there was a serious problem and saw that their men were shooting too high, over the heads of the enemy. Orders went out to shoot at the knees, but that didn’t help, because poor aim was not the problem.
Sociopaths aside, your subconscious mind abhors the idea of taking a human life, for any reason. This is true, even though your conscious mind has fully grasped the need to take a life in order to save yourself or a loved one. Until I studied this, it always amazed me how many armed women were robbed, assaulted, and raped in their own homes by an intruder who took their gun and had his way with her because she couldn’t shoot. Pointing the gun straight at him, they were unable to pull the trigger. That was their unconscious mind at work. Your conscious mind may clearly see a criminal and imminent danger, but your unconscious mind sees a human being.
However, we don’t want to just shut down the unconscious mind, because in fact it can be a life saver. Any man that has been in a life-threatening situation knows about “trusting your gut”, and many women are alive today because of “women’s intuition”. Both are the same documented phenomena with gender-specific names, but these phenomena are actually easy to explain. What they are, pure and simple, is our unconscious mind picking up on cues from our environment that we did not notice consciously, but it’s what the unconscious mind did notice. So we don’t want to shut down that valuable asset, but we do want to be able to act consciously.
There’s no purpose pointing all this out if there is no solution for the problem. However, in this case, there are. While it’s not quick or easy, the unconscious mind can be reprogrammed. If you’ve tried to lose weight chances are you either failed outright or you succeeded for a time but then gained it back. I’m talking about simply eating less. How can we fail so consistently when we want it so badly? The answer is that if your unconscious mind has a picture of you being a certain weight, it will fight to maintain stasis, because “that is you”. Your unconscious mind always wants to feel comfortable and will fight for that comfort.
There are two tried, proven, and scientifically-documented ways to program the unconscious mind. Any professional or Olympic athlete will tell you that visualization works. If you watch winter Olympics downhill skiers stand at the top of their run, they are moving their bodies imagining the run as they want it before they even start. This programs the unconscious to see the same picture that the conscious imagines, and when the two work together amazing results follow. The other way to reprogram the unconscious mind is also well known and documented, though few have applied that knowledge to shooting; it’s positive affirmations. If you continually bombard your unconscious mind with verbal suggestions, what you are essentially doing is brainwashing yourself. If the unconscious mind hears it enough times repetitively and over a long enough time span, it begins to believe it. To be effective, your self-talk should be short, simple, and to the point. For instance, let’s say you aren’t the most observant person in the world. Your self-talk statement might be something like this; “I am always alert”. Your positive affirmations should be spoken several times a day and as often as you can. Remember repetition and time are the proven basis for brainwashing. If you do this, you will find that over time you will be looking less at your shoes as you walk and instead looking around at your surroundings more. If you are one of those people who have less-than-excellent situational awareness, it’s critical for you to improve in this area, because you can’t defend against something you don’t notice until it’s too late. You’ll find that as soon as you say it, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because you can’t make that statement and not involuntarily (unconsciously) start looking around. If you routinely look down while walking on a flat surface, like a sidewalk or road, and say something like that to yourself or even just think it, an autonomic response will follow that makes you look up and around. You don’t have to consciously do a thing or think a thought, it just happens. This is your unconscious mind working FOR you instead of against you. If we fast forward from WW II to Vietnam we find something totally different, because now 90% of the riflemen are shooting the enemy. What’s the difference? Once the military learned about this phenomenon, we found ways to correct it. We did that by reprogramming our unconscious mind and also by temporarily bypassing it altogether. Training (correct training) is the key. During WW II and the Korean War, we trained men to shoot paper bull’s-eye targets. They were encouraged to take their time, pull the trigger slowly, and breathe correctly; sound familiar? They became very good at taking their time, breathing correctly, and hitting paper bull’s-eyes, even at distance, but that training did not translate well into real combat. While there were other minor changes, the two big changes in military training that resulted in such an increase of the effectiveness of the riflemen were:
- They now shoot at paper targets that are of real people, not bull’s-eyes. That conditions the unconscious mind to shoot something much more similar to the real thing.
- If you fire the shot within three seconds, the unconscious mind is bypassed, because it takes 3-4 seconds to kick in what you’re doing and the consequences. By the time your mind decides that you should probably miss that target and just try to scare him away, the shot has been fired. When a bad guy is drawing a bead on a team member, you do not want to start thinking things like: “He probably has kids at home”, or “I’ll be widowing some poor woman”, or “He’s just hungry”. With training, your conscious mind will be screaming, “He’s drawing down on my friend; I have to shoot him or he’ll kill my teammate and me too, take my wife, and eat our food.” Your unconscious mind will cause you, at the very least, to hesitate for a few crucial seconds while it searches for alternatives to killing a human being.
After the collapse of society and in the absence of any effective law enforcement, we’re not talking about facing a military unit that possesses military-grade weapons, military training, and military vehicles. If you are, give it up; you’ll lose. What you are very likely to face, though, are individual criminals and gangs. These are “animals” and easier to “put down”. They may even make it easier for you by looking the part. However, what if it’s your neighbor, with whom you have refused to share what little food you have, and he has returned, armed and desperate? Can you shoot “Fred”, who you’ve known for years and who used to bring the cold beers to all your barbecues? What if your spouse is in the garden collecting vegetables for dinner and an old, frail, skinny man is drawing a bead on him/her? What if it’s a lady, a pregnant lady, or a thirteen-year-old boy who is starting to squeeze the trigger? Could you really shoot that pregnant lady or that child? If you hesitate for even a split second, your spouse just died, and it’s your fault. Still think this is going to be easy?
So, let’s talk in more detail about those solutions.
- Stop right now and throw away all your bull’s eye targets; buy human targets to shoot at. I’m not talking about silhouettes or zombies either. I’m talking about real, human-looking targets of people posing as bad guys who are facing you. Start that process of reprogramming immediately, because it takes a lot of time, a lot of ammo, and we may not have all the time you’ll need if you procrastinate. That’s the easiest part.
- The next part requires that you practice enough times at acquiring that stop watch. Then have them shout a stop order. They will stop the watch at exactly the three-second mark. Practice this with the target being at all points of the compass, as that can happen in real life.
- The next part is the visualizations. The more detail you insert, the more effective they are, but detail will take you some time to develop and add. Here’s a hypothetic scenario for you. Let’s say you imagine yourself shooting an armed attacker who has just come out from behind a tree or building, depending on whether your environment is going to be urban or rural. You easily imagine yourself raising your weapon and shooting the guy, but there’s no detail there, so your unconscious is not going to buy into that. The lack of detail is what makes visualization fail for most people. The scenario I just described is not visualization, but it is the foundation for visualization. That’s where you have to start, but that’s not real life, is it? The devil is in the details. Did you visualize the target drop? In real life, people don’t usually just drop dead. They run until they bleed out, they fall, and they scream in agony. They call out to their mother in their death throes. They beg for their life. They use their last ounce of energy and last pint of blood trying to shoot back at you. (You must make sure the people you kill are dead. Many a good cop has been shot by a criminal who was fatally shot but returned fire before bleeding out.) Imagine that the target sees you at the last moment; does he freeze? Does he run? Does he pull his firearm up towards you? Does he drop his? Does he tell you to drop yours? Does he ask you to let him go and tell you he will never come back? Murphy’s Law says whatever you failed to anticipate is what will happen, so think through all the possibilities. You also have to engage all of your senses in the visualization, to make it believable to your unconscious mind. Did you see blood oozing from his wound? Did you even imagine, in detail, exactly where you hit him? Did you see, in your peripheral vision, the spent casing go flying? Did you see the look on his face the moment he saw you and knew he was going to die? Did you hear the sound of your rifle? Did you feel the recoil? Do you feel how dry your mouth has become and how wet your palms are? Did you smell the gunpowder right after the shot? Tunnel vision is normal during an adrenalin dump, but it’s not all exclusive. Did you notice the area around the target? If you are convinced the target has been neutralized, did you immediately start scanning the environment for another person, in case this one wasn’t alone? To be effective, you have to engage as many of your senses as possible and in as much detail as possible. Now repeat all that with a woman, an old man, and a thirteen-year-old boy as the perpetrator.
- I want to add one more thing, which is the post-shooting situation and action. Please do not ignore this, or you radically increase the chances of suffering some form of PTSD. Unless you are all alone, never, ever, ever go look at the person you just shot. Let someone else check to make sure they are dead. Let someone else strip them of anything valuable, and especially let somebody else bury, burn, or otherwise dispose of the body. If you get a good, solid look at their face, your conscious mind will accept what you’ve done (assuming it was indeed a righteous shooting). However, at night, in your dreams, your unconscious mind will be thinking, “I shot the father of some kids somewhere”, I just killed my neighbor, Fred”, “I shot some lady’s husband or some mother’s son”, and/or “I shot a starving man who only wanted food” and other similar thoughts. There will likely be blood, guts, bone tissue, and so forth that can traumatize any normal man’s soul and sear it with memories that can never be purged without years on the couch of a good shrink.
Shooting another human being just isn’t built into a normal person’s DNA, unless you are a sociopath and have no conscience, remorse, or guilt. Be sure it is a righteous shooting, or you will deserve the guilt and trauma that follow. There can be a fine line between killing in self defense and unnecessary murder. We all have a moral compass, and for each one of us that compass points somewhere a little different than everybody else. I think we are all on board with shooting someone who would kill a loved one, but what about someone who is going to steal food, which is required for sustaining life and without it will result in the death of that same loved one later down the road? Is that also justified? We each have to make that decision, and I urge you to do that ahead of time, so you don’t have to work it out in your head in the middle of an adrenalin dump. Know exactly what you are willing to do, when, where, and how you will do it. Preparing your whole mind (both halves) ahead of time is your best defense. Without your whole mind behind you, all the marksmanship, training, and the finest weapons will almost certainly fail you.