Monday, September 1, 2014

News Analysis: Studies in Negligence and Danger-Seeking

There are two stories that hit the wire last week, and each need to be discussed with an eye toward pragmatic analysis rather than hyperbole.

The first is the story of the firearms instructor who had been killed on the range by a 9-year-old girl with an Uzi submachine gun.  We're going to ignore media bias for the purposes of this discussion: how the story has been reported, and why certain words were used to describe the incident.

The bottom line is that the range instructor was negligent.  He killed himself, ruined that young girl's life, and caused irreparable damage to both his family and the girl's.  What he was thinking is something we'll never know, though I'm reasonably sure it was a variant of, "We've never had a problem before."

One thing serious shooters understand early on is that there are no such things as accidental shootings.  Any time a bullet leaves the barrel in a direction it wasn't meant to go, it means that the shooter (or in this case, the instructor) was negligent.  He ignored one or more of the four basic rules of firearms handling.  They are:
  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never point the weapon at anything you don't intend to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Always be aware of your target and what's around and behind it.
In this case, Charles Vacca put the enforcement of those basic rules on the shoulders of someone incapable of obeying them: a 9-year-old girl.  And he died as a result of that horrible mistake.  She couldn't handle the weapon properly.

Imagine driving down the road and almost hitting somebody.  Your mind goes through all the awful scenarios, and you feel terrible about what might have happened.  But there's some relief there, too, because it didn't happen.  The 9-year-old won't ever have that relief.  Nor will her family.  

I am not blaming the victim, because the victim is the 9-year-old.  

The next story involves a former Marine and his Air Force buddy who were beaten outside of a Waffle House in Mississippi.  The Marine, Ralph Weems, had been critically injured as a result of the beating.  Here's the most important part of the story:

"The Associated Press reports that Weems went to a Waffle House early Saturday. His friend David Knighten, an Air Force veteran of the Afghanistan war who was with him, told reporters that a man told him politely outside the restaurant that it wasn't a safe place for whites, because people were upset by the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo."

Nevertheless, Weems and Knighten went in there.


We all know how the world should be.  It should be perfectly okay for anyone to walk down any neighborhood anywhere at any time of day and not fear being victimized.  But it isn't.  It clearly isn't.  Until we get to that point, we need to act with a modicum of caution and, dare I say it, situational awareness.  

For whatever reason, Weems and Knighten decided to ignore a perfectly reasonable warning, and suffered injury as a result.  You know how in horror movies, there's that one character who opens the door he definitely shouldn't, and you think to yourself, What a dumbass.  I would never do that?  Weems and Knighten went through that door.  

That didn't have to happen.  It's as if they were asking to get beaten up.  Nobody's arguing that they deserved it, or that beating up strangers is a justifiable way of expressing frustration about race relations in the United States.  That's stupid.  But what's equally stupid is ignoring the world in which we live.

The best self-defense techniques always begin with awareness, avoidance, and de-escalation.  Weems and Knighten were apparently unaware of danger (despite being warned about it), they went toward the danger rather than avoiding it, and they didn't de-escalate the situation by fleeing when danger was imminent.

Don't do what they did.  Be smart.

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