The list of terrorist attacks is getting longer, and will likely grow longer in the future. Terrorist attacks are the terrible new reality, and they are harsh reminders that you alone are responsible for the safety of yourself and your family.
In The Terrorist Attack Action Plan, we talked about the importance of developing tangible and practical situational awareness skills so you know how to avoid becoming the victim of a terrorist attack. Here, we’ll look at whether carrying a gun is right for you, and if so, how you should go about acquiring and building the knowledge and skills you need to carry.
Remember, though, that carrying a gun—regardless of your level of skill with it—is no guarantee that you’ll prevail should you suffer the misfortune of getting caught up in a terrorist attack. The harsh truth is that by definition, the deck is already stacked against you. A terrorist intent on carrying out an attack is going to seek targets where the density of people is high, immediate escape is difficult, and there is little likelihood of immediate armed resistance. In other words, they’ll pick a target where most advantages are in their favor. They know that the only thing that will stop them is an armed response, so they’ll favor a target where that response will take time – at least enough time to allow them to complete their attack successfully.
I paint this picture to stress the point that carrying a concealed handgun is not going to be a magic solution. Highly trained law enforcement and defense professionals would never want to be caught in a situation where they face so many disadvantages going in. Regular folks like us need to understand that carrying a gun might help, or it might not, hence the emphasis in Part One about the importance of developing your active awareness skills.
To make matters worse, you can expect your natural mental and physical reactions to work against you as well. This three-part series on Shooting in Self-Defense, by law enforcement veteran and former SWAT Supervisor Sara Ahrens, provides a lot of perspective on the surprising ways in which people react in such situations.
With all that said, many who choose to carry would rather have a fighting chance over resignation and hopeful submission. If you choose to carry a gun, and supplement your decision with practice and professional training, you might be fortunate enough to use it to aid your escape or put a stop to a terrorist event altogether. Or you might die trying. Given that the end goal of a terrorist attack is for everyone present to end up dead, many would prefer to at least try.
That’s where mindset comes into play. You’ll only realize the maximum potential benefit to carrying a gun if you’ve already made the decision not be become a helpless victim, no matter what that means. As firearms trainer and active competitor Michelle Cerino explains, “Carrying a gun has everything to do with mindset. There is nothing I will not do to protect myself and those I love, even if it means taking someone life. Many people I know have their concealed carry permit but aren’t ready to carry. Usually, they are uncomfortable with their ability to shoot and want more practice first. Carrying a gun means having the ability to end a conflict where your life, or the life of someone you love, is in mortal danger. It does not mean sending off a warning shot at the ceiling, like in a movie.”
The Pros and Cons of Concealed Carry
The advantages to concealed carry are clear. While there is no guarantee of success, having a gun when things go south can dramatically increase your odds or survival. Put another way, if it rains, I’m definitely going to get wet if I don’t have an umbrella. If I do have an umbrella available, I may still get wet, but my odds of staying dry have improved.
On the con side to concealed carry, there are several things to consider.
Making a decision to carry a gun changes everything. You now have the responsibility of making decisions with life-or-death consequences. You’ll need to develop a boundless sense of humility. Those disagreements with obnoxious drivers and the occasional bully will have to end with you smiling, apologizing, and walking away. If you ever feel threatened, you’d better be sure that your life is in imminent danger before drawing your gun. Being wrong—even if you don’t intend to pull the trigger—can ruin your life as you know it.
Carrying without proper preparation can be more dangerous, legally and physically, than not carrying at all. Sara Ahrens notes that “If someone doubts themselves and their abilities, it’s probably not a good idea to carry. I’d love for there to be as many carriers as possible, but let’s face it – there are some people that would create danger, not prevent it.”
Last, making a decision to carry means that you might one day be responsible for ending the life of another. That’s not something any rational person would like to do, regardless of circumstance. However, you may make the conscious decision that living with that burden would be preferable to becoming a victim. Let’s talk about that next.
Are You Willing to Use Lethal Force?
Michelle Cerino sums up the moral decision succinctly: “If you are going to carry, you must reflect on the question ‘If your life is in danger, are you willing to end the threat by taking that person’s life?’”
The time to think about whether you capable of pulling the trigger is now, during the planning stage. Having a gun won’t help protect you from an attack. Drawing or flashing a gun won’t protect you either. In fact, that will likely make you a prime target. Only using it aggressively and without hesitation can make a difference.
Chris Cerino trained civilians, law enforcement officers, and military personnel for 18 years. You might also remember him from History Channel’s Top Shot. I asked Chris what advice he had for people who were contemplating whether they were willing to use lethal force. “The decision to carry a gun is usually based on how strongly someone feels about being a victim. For the most part, no one wants to be a victim, but how people respond to that varies. Some will say ‘I could never shoot someone.’ They will likely never carry or keep a gun nearby. Those people may opt for pepper spray or hornet spray. Anyone who feels strongly that they will not be taken from this world and deprived of their life and family will do whatever it takes to make sure they go home every day. This means they would even shoot someone.”
The decision over whether you are willing to use lethal force doesn’t just impact you. As Sara Ahrens says, “Carrying a gun is a big responsibility, and not everyone’s equipped to handle that responsibility. Anyone carrying a firearm introduces that dimension into the scenario if only through mere possession. If someone doesn’t have the mental fortitude to defend themselves or a loved one, their best bet is not to even carry it because they may just provide the threat with a deadly force tool that was previously absent.”
To get a first-hand perspective of what shooting someone in self-defense entails, read Sara Ahrens personal account of what you might expect if you have to pull the trigger.
The Seven Steps to Defending Yourself
If, after considering all of this, you decide that carrying a gun is the right answer for you and your family, here are the steps you can take to go about making wise decisions on equipment selection and training.
1. Learn the four rules of gun safety
Before you even head to the store or range to look at guns, you need to understand the four cardinal rules of gun safety. As you internalize the four rules, you’ll see that they are redundant, and for good reason. You must violate multiple rules in order for you or someone else to get hurt. You can read about the four rules of gun safety here.
2. Choose a gun
Chris Cerino recommends this approach to gun selection: “Don’t let your friends talk you into a gun. Go to a store or range where you can handle them all and make an educated decision. If you can shoot them before buying them, so much the better. Beware of people who try to steer your decisions on caliber, capacity, size, and action type.”
You can begin your basic education process online by reading this article about buying your first gun. It’ll arm you with the basics about gun types and ammunition.
When choosing a gun, remember that it will be your ability to use it well that might carry the day in your favor. Small guns are easy to carry, but hard to shoot. Large caliber guns feel “powerful,” but are also more difficult to shoot. Physically larger guns are, surprisingly, easier to shoot and have less felt recoil.
Chris Cerino elaborates: “When someone who is new to shooting looks to purchase a gun, they need to consider these issues. A carry gun is not generally the best to train with for a 500- or 1000-round class. Some can do it, but it’s not always fun, so having a training gun of similar make and caliber is a good idea. All of those fundamentals and techniques will translate to your carry pistol.”
Michelle Cerino adds, “The most important part is to find the gun that you are comfortable with. I suggest getting a full-size gun to begin your training. With less recoil, you can learn the fundamentals and be able to take classes where you shoot hundreds of rounds a day. Once you master these fundamentals, find a gun for concealed carry.”
3. Learn to Shoot
As we’ll discuss in a minute, there is no substitute for live training with a reputable instructor. However, you can start your education with online videos produced by reputable instructors. For example, this series will show you some basic gun handling and shooting tips.
4. Get a Concealed Carry Permit
Even if your state allows concealed carry without a permit (often referred to as “constitutional carry”), it can be a good idea to invest in a concealed carry permit. Why? The required training will teach you about local and state laws and legal principles related to self-defense. For example, did you know that a justified self-defense shooting is still considered homicide? That and other critical legal concepts are some of the things you’ll learn in your concealed carry permit class. The other reason to get a permit is that it allows legal carry in other states where your permit is honored. Last, investing in a legal permit helps to establish you as one of the good guys.
5. Choose The Right Holster And Carry Method
Carrying a gun the right way for your specific lifestyle can make all the difference. Some methods are convenient, but may not help you at all in a defensive gun use situation. Learn about the pros and cons of different carry methods, and how to choose the right holster, in our three-part holster guide series.
6. Commit to Training
If you choose to carry a gun, a commitment to ongoing training comes with it. You’ll not only need training on how to use a gun in self-defense, but you’ll also need to thoroughly understand the myriad of legal issues related to carrying and use of a firearm.
Most states will require you to take a concealed carry class. A basic state-mandated class will not prepare you to use a gun in self-defense. Most will only give you a brief overview of firearms operation and local laws. If you do nothing else, recognize that your very first defensive training class will start after you’ve completed the state course. Better yet, take a defensive shooting class before you consider applying for a concealed carry permit.
Finding quality training will take some work. “The best training is usually found by word of mouth.” Says Chris Cerino. “Seek out local instructors to start. Evening classes that are 4 hours and weekend classes that are 8 hours are great starts and usually inexpensive.”
Michelle Cerino notes that there are many national groups for ladies that offer training classes: “Since most of these organizations do not require you to be a member to attend, visit some local groups and find out what they are all about. Talk to members and ask what kind of training they offer. Do they bring in outside, well-known instructors? Also, watch members and determine who is a good shooter. Ask where they received their training.”
Quality training encompasses much more than developing proficient shooting skills at stationary paper targets. “If someone is contemplating carrying concealed I’d recommend familiarity with the firearm and all equipment, knowledge of the applicable use of force case law, and perpetual training for both marksmanship and mindset,” says Sara Ahrens. “Everyone must choose between two pains – the pain of discipline, or the pain of regret.”
Like most skills, defensive ones are perishable too. Gunsite Academy shooting instructor Ed Head says, “After taking a class at Gunsite, students are encouraged to practice and perfect their skills, but even more importantly to live their lives using the mindset tools we teach. These skills combine to establish a sense of competence and self-control.”
7. Commit to Carrying
As artist, author, critic, and painter John Berger noted, “You can plan events, but if they go according to your plan they are not events.”
There’s no guarantee that all of this preparation will ensure your survival. There are simply too many variables at play for predictable outcomes.
Ed Head offers some final thoughts on how to improve your odds. “If you have committed to carrying concealed, always carry. Avoid gun free zones. Be alert and aware of your surroundings; if you sense danger immediately move to avoid it. If caught in an event like the Orlando nightclub attack, immediately attempt to escape. If that’s not possible, assume a position of cover and use your weapon. Remember, you are on your own, and depending on others to save you is a poor plan.”