It has been said many times that the only way to guarantee surviving a violent encounter is to not get in it in the first place. This perspective is focused on personal survival. It is, and will continue to be, not only correct but should a driving force when we are facing a potential threat.
Using deadly force is always the absolute last resort when all else fails. If you have received quality training, you should have this principle internalized. When we are faced with the use of deadly force to stop a threat our goal is just that, stop the threat. We should never have the intent to kill a threat, only stop it. Unfortunately, the threat will most likely not survive, especially if you have trained to the point of proficiency.
I am sure there are some who believe the legal aftermath is much simpler if there is only your side of the story. This is a dangerous line of thinking. As law abiding citizens, we don’t think like criminals who do everything they can (at least the craftiest ones) to avoid leaving evidence. In a self-defense encounter we do not have the pre-meditated planning the criminal has done. This lack of premeditated planning will have us leaving a significant trail of evidence.
This is a very good tool for your defense attorney. As the innocent victim you didn’t try to cover up the evidence. I heard one student of mine tell a story about a lawyer that told him that if he shot and killed a home invader that fell on the porch, drag the invader inside. I really hope that was not a true story, and if it was, I would be looking for a different lawyer.
I am way off my intended subject: the realization that pressing the trigger on a firearm pointed at a human may result in taking a life.
I had a recent conversation with a friend about this very subject. He is a hunter and has used a firearm to harvest wild game and taught his family the same skills. Hunting is a very different event than defending yourself from a human with intent to do you grave bodily harm. While anyone who enters the living room of apex predators knows that we are viewed as food to them as much as we view deer and elk as food for us. It is entirely possible that while we are looking for game (or just hiking trails,) an apex predator is stalking us with the intent to eat us.
Most of us in that situation will have little hesitation to point a firearm at that predator and press the trigger to stop an attack. Like a self-defense event with a human, the use of deadly force is only applied to an apex predator when other deterring techniques have failed.
I have asked the question before; can you point a firearm at a human and press the trigger? If you are honest (and haven’t faced the situation) your answer will most likely be “I don’t know.” As a retired military member, we were trained in the mindset that our job was to break things and kill people. In the Air Force we were much more detached from this “in your face” violence that our sister branches, the Army, and Marines. Their conditioning was much more intense than we got since their environment had them face to face with the threat.
In his book On Killing, The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society he addresses the military’s problem with getting drafted soldiers to point their weapons at the enemy and shoot to kill. The military studied (See Men Against Fire: The problem of Battle Command, Marshal, S.L.A., William Morrow & Company, New York 1947) the fire rates and looked for ways to turn off the safety switch. This safety switch prevents us from killing another human being.
There are plenty of examples of those who have this switch off, such as serial killers. For the rest of the non-psychopathic population, the switch is on. In World War II it is estimated that only 25% of soldiers fired directly at the enemy. At the time, training the new troops involved shooting at bulls-eye targets. These were trained soldiers and included seasoned troops.
By the Viet Nam war the rate was closer to 90%. What made the difference? Training, plain and simple. To be more specific, operant conditioning. The military started with using silhouette targets. Then they progressed to pop-up targets. The soldiers were graded on how quickly they hit the target after it popped up. This training moved the fire decision to neural pathways (sometimes known as muscle memory) so the soldiers didn’t think, they just shot the target.
When we do training, we (well, most of us) don’t use the popup targets. There are some advanced shooting courses that do. When I was certified, yhe NRA forbade us instructors from using even animal silhouette targets. Their program was strictly marksmanship focused. This is true to the roots of the NRA.
If we only shoot at a bulls-eye there is no assurance that we will be able to engage a human threat. That is why law enforcement training uses various human shaped targets and even some with human features.
The reality is, regardless of the training there is no guarantee that the average person will shoot at another person. We must train ourselves to engage a human shape. Remember, even with the advanced training, the Viet Nam era soldiers still had 10% who did not shoot the enemy.
Today, we have some operant conditioning that is teaching our population to engage human targets. We have first-person-shooter video games, LASER tag, and to really drive the point home paintball wars. There are many who deny the conditioning. However, in Columbine, the shooters stood flat-footed and shot at the students using the same techniques they used in video games. Paintball has us hunting each other. We are being conditioned to turn that switch off.
With all that being considered, the only way we can be 100% sure we can press the trigger is to face the choice. While I never want to be in that situation, I realize that situation is only presented when a threat has engaged me with intent to do great/grave bodily harm. We train so that in that event we can react and survive. The training we do must include a human analog to at least condition us to shooting a human target. Will that flip the switch enough that we can press the trigger? I hope none of us find out…