EPISODE #153: Friendly Fire – Part Two of Three

Last week, we discussed a recent situation which took place in an Alabama shopping mall, where a CCW holder, who was moving toward what he believed to be an active shooter, was gunned down by police who mistook him for the active shooter.

The message is: friendly fire… and how sometimes the biggest threats we will ever face are the ones that attack us from the rear.

As someone who carries concealed, this idea of friendly fire is one of my top three most dominant concerns. The reasons are twofold. First, I feel damn-near as well equipped mentally and physically as possible to handle whatever threat or threats life throws at me. I know that I’m not bulletproof or invincible or even anywhere remotely to “the best” out there, but I have little concern about facing an actual, violent threat. I’m ready – nearly as ready as I’ll ever be, though I always have improvements to make. Everyone does.

But at the end of the day, even if emotional fear is something we rarely or never experience, rational fear still exists, and rational fear is nothing more than the understanding and acceptance that we are vulnerable to what is OUT of our control.

And that’s exactly what friendly fire is. A lethal threat to our survival that we are very much out of control of.

The risk includes both police and civilians.

Ideally, police won’t be our primary risk, because by the time they arrive to any scene, the situation will have been dealt with and our guns will – ideally – be sliding into their holsters before the police arrive. But especially in an active shooting situation, or in a situation where the police approach with cover and stealth, you may very quickly find yourself getting shot by individuals who – rationally – have reports of a murderer with a gun, and who – rationally – know that they can’t lose a tenth of a second of advantage against an active shooter: they have to shoot or get shot.

But aside from the police, there is the risk of other CPL holders. And the risks of being mistaken for a violent threat by a fellow sheepdog exist from the very second you begin to move for your gun to minutes and minutes after a shooting concludes. And unlike police officers – most of whom will be identifiably wearing uniforms and possibly approaching in noisy cars – the threat of this private citizen friendly fire could come from anywhere. A young woman or an old man- from the person sitting behind you or standing beside you, from a car window, from the window of a nearby building.

This week, I wanted to touch on some of the strategies we can use to mitigate these friendly risks to our safety. Now, I want to begin analyzing these strategies the same way we analyze most strategies related to self-defense: from the outside, in. From passive to active. So: let us begin, with only one qualification: I’m not going to recommend the carrying of a CPL badge or a bright yellow vest to use as identification. There may be situation-specifics where these are good ideas, but it’s the carrying of them that is impractical for most people, and I try to only purvey strategies and tactics here that will be usable by many. That said, please do write in and argue me on these points if you disagree, especially if you’re active duty law enforcement privy to training policies and the reactions of yourself and your co-workers under stress.

We will begin with the passive strategies. Things we can do starting today, right now, that will help.

First, I’ve got to touch on the way we look.

In general, we want to try to look as clean and respectable as possible. You want to look like a family leader – a mother or father, or grand-father or grand-mother. If you’re young and fit the profile of an active shooter, you especially want to look clean cut and organized.

Next, for passively avoiding friendly fire, we’ve got to focus on being aware of who is around us at all times. The best time to become aware of a potential guardian is long before an issue takes place, and making eye contact with, smiling at, or just a friendly nod or tip of the hat to someone like this can and will go a very long way in providing you with those critical couple seconds of benefit of doubt in the minds of a neighbor who hears a burst of shots and looks up to see you with a gun in your hand. If you’re carrying in a venue with the same people around you regularly, such as at a church, try to coordinate with them. Get to know them, and get enough face time with them so that they will recognize you, even in a high-energy tunnel-vision inducing scenario that might have you sprinting to the front of the crowd during a threatening situation.

Next, keep very strong that AVOIDANCE MINDSET. Remember what we discussed in Volume 3 of 3 SECONDS FROM NOW, how a threat must cross TWO lines in our mind before we use force: not just the line where lethal force becomes JUSTIFIED, but the line where lethal force becomes *absolutely essential*. We call this second line, the RED LINE. What I’m getting at is this: our best bet at avoiding friendly fire is to avoid ever drawing our guns in the first place. And as you know from watching the 3 SECONDS series, a not-insignificant number of the instances of the private use of force in this country fall short of this redline test. Now I’m not here to discuss politics, and I believe strongly in the deterrent effect that CPL holders using their guns to stop crimes has in America. But when it comes to being the smart, wise one in the room – the alpha – we at the top tier always want to do the most prudent thing: that which will give us the best shot at walking through our doors in one piece at the end of every day. And that means: not ever drawing our guns unless it’s 100% critically necessary to our imminent and immediate survival.

Next, we can do a lot to avoid friendly fire by understanding the risks OF friendly fire as a situation is building, if we have any warning at all. For example, if the threat is extremely loud and belligerent and if everyone in the room is sitting with jaws dropped as a threat walks in shouting and waving his gun around and firing shots at random and threatening to kill a waitress, we can feel reasonably confident than any other guardians in the room will not mistake you for a threat if you engage. But if it’s a more discreet but equally deadly threat, one that you’re only aware of because of your guardian awareness skills, then you should be more on edge for friendly fire should you have to act, because – especially if you are required to act proactively – even the most prudent and aware of your neighbors may have every possibly reason to legitimately believe that you ARE the threat.

Okay, then, we move into the more active strategies. These are tactics we can employ once a situation has become active, once it’s too late to enact any of the passive strategies and tactics that we just talked about.

The biggest one, and the one that may have saved the armed guardian in Alabama a couple weeks ago, is: if you’re in public or especially a crowd, keep your gun hidden at all times, except for when you’re shooting. If you’re moving toward a situation and need to have your gun drawn, fold it into your chest and keep it covered with your offhand, or offhand and forearm if it’s a big-framed pistol. People will rarely be looking close enough to notice it, and they may even believe you’re holding a wound. It’s hard and isn’t ideal from a speed perspective, but if it helps avoid you getting shot or tackled by a bunch of panicked or courageous private citizens, it’s an important strategy to keep in mind.

Next: One technique rooted in psychology is the idea of presenting your offhand up in the air with an open palm in the immediate aftermath of a shooting – those critical seconds when a fellow guardian in the room may be drawing and scanning for threats. If you can keep just as much control on your gun and the downed threat with your offhand raised high into the air, do it. This gesture with an open palm is the fundamentally human signal for trust – a way to say “I’m not a threat” that breaches all languages and cultures. If an officer or fellow guardian is scanning the room, they will hopefully see that no criminal or active shooter intent on continuing violence would ever present such a signal, and you’ll win those few seconds of – again – benefit of doubt.

Next, while you’re doing this or even if you can’t, try to keep your gun trained on your threat. Even when you are scanning for additional threats, and even if you are bolting for cover, if you keep your gun on the downed threat this will avoid you from accidently flagging or waving your gun past any guardians who may violently react to that.

Next, consider a vocal identification. It’s no guarantee and there are times when this may leave you in greater danger, but to shout “police, help!” or “is everyone okay?,” may – again- help you identify yourself as a friendly to other guardians.

Finally: I want to leave you with the idea of this, too, being another area where being more polished in your tactics and training could come back to benefit you. Not always… certainly not always… but many of the times, active shooters are not polished. They often carry inferior weapons and they don’t always know how to handle them. Now trend is actually reversing, in the cases of practiced jihadists or in the cases of a few ex-military men committing mass murder. But most often, skilled guardians and police officers know how to spot someone with training, and this, too, may be a subtle signal to their subconsciousness, which may just tell them: “Hold up a second.”

And in the case of friendly fire – as I’ve stressed here several times now – getting through those barriers in those critical seconds is everything. It’s everything.

Okay. Once again, we’re out of time for this week – it’s important to keep these broadcasts at a digestible length! Now these were my thoughts, the bullet points I wanted to cover – and outside of situation-specific tactics, this about taps me out on how to avoid friendly fire. Now I’ve seen that we have a lot of submissions of listener ideas for avoiding friendly fire, and this week I’m going to begin synthesizing them and preparing anything new to share with all of you. And that means you have a few more days. If you have any ideas that I haven’t covered here, reply to the guardian broadcast email and send them in, and I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Thank you! And stay safe.

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