Big Picture Considerations

by Gila Hayes

On the surface, my topic this month is simply further discussion about non-gun defense options that we’ve been sharing the past several months. Looking deeper, however, there’s a lot more to the principles underlying the subject we need to examine this month.

A member who is a veterinarian wrote to express his concern about the firearms instructor’s comment in last month’s editorial about strobing flashlights.

“Regarding using a strobe flashlight to repel a nasty dog, a quick Google search gave no helpful information. Hearsay and anecdotal information, regardless of the qualifications of the speaker in a different area of expertise, should not be relied on,” he opined, giving an example about spreading erroneous opinions forwarded by experts about topics outside their specialty he had encountered as a veterinarian. The opinion about trying a strobing light to repel a vicious dog struck the same chord in my correspondent, “Somebody might get hurt because you gave an imprimatur to that information,” he warned.

First, let’s give our flashlight proponent rebuttal space, and then, if you will indulge me, I’d like to add some comments about critical thinking and our journal content.

Our firearms instructor commentator responded, “I wrote that the bright strobe feature was ‘even likely to repel … vicious dogs.’ I didn’t state it as fact and can’t provide empirical proof. However, several of my law enforcement clients have had success with such flashlights in encounters with angry dogs. I always strive to be factual and authoritative in my professional guidance. If presented with reliable evidence of the bright strobe being generally ineffective in a canine context, I’ll revise my suggestion accordingly. Obviously, my tactical flashlight suggestion does not constitute an imprimatur, and I realize the Network and any member has the prerogative of accepting, challenging, or rejecting my recommendation. In the final analysis, I hope ACLDN and all other members will have found the discussion topic … illuminating!”

This exchange of ideas is the perfect introduction for a bigger topic. Do you unquestioningly accept what you read as a sound basis for your decisions or do you take in all the information you can find, ask your own questions and keep an open mind in case updates or new developments add to that body of knowledge? Do you strive to verify information taught at classes you attend? Do you treat class lectures any differently from information learned from books and articles or videos? How seriously do you take knowledge shared in conversations with fellow gun enthusiasts?

Validating information about self defense is tremendously challenging. Any demand for proven scientific findings about self-defense use of force is, I fear, impossible to provide because truly authoritative resources are few and far between–if they exist at all. We must acknowledge that each self-defense use of force is different in a host of ways just as each police use of force is subject to any number of variables. Short of allowing a Josef Mengele-style study, who is to say unequivocally that 9mm stops attackers only 75% as often as the vaunted .45 ACP; that shooting a violent assailant in the (pick one) head or the heart will bring about an immediate cessation of an attack, or that a strobing flashlight is effective against genuinely violent human or canine aggressors? Each supposition has been argued at length, by the way, and here’s the unsolvable problem: has a specific technique or piece of equipment worked for someone sometime somewhere? Sure! Survivors may very well become advocates for what they believe saved them. We’re all glad they made it, but what miniscule possibility exists that the situational variations in play in the advocate’s situation will be replicated in a similar situation? That’s asking for a tremendous quantity of amazingly good luck!

No one, from the most highly-recognized authority to the guy or gal with whom you strike up a conversation at the shooting range or gun store, can reliably advise exactly what to do to survive if you face immediate threat to your life or that of a loved one. The best we can hope for is an accumulation of information and knowledge–both scientific, like our veterinarian’s training, and experiential like the stories told at the ProArms Podcast–to create an array of options from which to draw. For black and white thinkers, this is a disturbing reality.

There is great comfort but terrible risk in relying on an unimpeachable authority that issued a mandate so we could say, “I did as I was told.” The ever-changing world of human behavior, crime trends, society’s decay, coupled with the defense industry’s advances through research and development require consistent personal effort to keep our own knowledge current and an open-minded willingness to challenge previously held beliefs when better options become available. Balancing on that shifting edge is not particularly comfortable! Blindly accepting statements from experts as unimpeachable fact may be comfortable, but it is incredibly risky.

Now, to apply those ideas, we have to ask, does information presented in the Network’s journal interviews, book reviews, and other columns constitute the final word on matters of self defense? It would be nice if the Network possessed such powers! Alas, we can only share thought-provoking discussions to which each reader must apply his or her own judgement about appropriate situational application.

I strive mightily to avoid “fine print” in any aspect of the Network–for better or for worse, what we do and how we do it is done right out in public view–and so in regular-sized type, on the back page of every edition of the journal is the reminder: “Do not mistake information presented in this online publication for legal advice; it is not. The Network strives to assure that information published in this journal is both accurate and useful. Reader, it is your responsibility to consult your own attorney to receive professional assurance that this information and your interpretation or understanding of it is accurate, complete and appropriate with respect to your particular situation.

“In addition, material presented in our opinion columns is entirely the opinion of the bylined author and is intended to provoke thought and discussion among readers.”

Our Network family is populated by smart, careful men and women, and I genuinely respect each member’s analytic capabilities. I promise to continue doing as our closing statement at the end of each journal states: strive to provide accurate and useful information, while trusting that you, the reader, have the smarts to take what is useful, adapt the ideas when your circumstances require modifications, and as both our correspondents–the firearms instructor and the veterinarian–did, stay in touch with us here at the Network about the interviews we compile, the opinions we state, and the books, videos and other training materials we discuss.

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.