(Editor’s note: This is Part 1 in a series on the psychology of violent confrontation. Read Part 2 here.)
Vice President Biden says that when one is confronted with a threat, he should “fire a warning shot.” That might be the answer you could expect from a white-gloved elitist with an entire security detail. For real people on the street, that is a good way to die when confronted with a real threat.
I recently traveled to my hometown of Jefferson City, Mo., to speak at the Rally for Common Sense. After the event, I invited a group of friends to meet up at a favorite downtown haunt near the state Capitol building, where I lived most of my life. One of my friends, who is the city prosecutor, asked if he could “bring along the man who took a bullet” for him. How could I say no to that?
I had no idea that the chance encounter would forever change the way I thought of defensive conditioning and confrontation.
Jefferson City, Mo., is where I spent my childhood. After my undergrad, I returned with my family to be at my husband’s side as he served for 14 years in the state House and Senate until term limits forced our exit. Most of that time was spent in the Capitol and in the surrounding city streets with my small children in tow. We rarely felt unsafe, but on my recent trip, I met a man who ended up staring down the barrel of a loaded gun just a few blocks from my favorite restaurant and the state Capitol where I spent 14 legislative sessions.
Justin Schnieders was a normal guy who happened to carry a gun in Missouri, a concealed carry permitting state. He and a few friends had gathered at my friend’s (the prosecutor’s) office and were sitting outside enjoying the evening air that Tuesday night. They never suspected this would be the night that a man would walk up to them holding a pistol, but that is exactly what happened. They all soon found themselves face down on the floor with the gunman asking for everyone to hand over their wallets.
That was the moment when Schnieders had to make a fateful decision. Should he risk his own life and the lives of his friends by starting a gunfight? Should he risk allowing the gunman to execute them all as they lay there, face down on the floor?
He made his decision. Schnieders reached for his pistol and slid it under his chest.
When the robber reached for Schnieders’ wallet, he found an empty holster.
Schnieders was ordered to get up, and as he did, he grabbed his pistol and turned to take down the gunman.
The robber had his revolver pressed into Schnieders’ abdomen and he pulled the trigger. Two more rounds were squeezed off from the robber’s pistol and those shattered the bones in both of Justin’s hands.
Schnieders fired twice, but soon realized why he was having trouble hitting his target. He looked down to see that both hands had been hit.
Obviously, he had never practiced shooting with two badly injured hands.
The gunman fired one more shot into Justin’s chest, but Justin fired back two more times. That time, he hit the gunman.
Schneiders told WND, "Everyone has a perfect picture of what a gunfight is going to be and it is never going to be like that." Justin now teaches concealed carry classes and uses his gunfight experience as part of that training.
Trained to die
Most of us train for our concealed carry license by going to a range and shooting at a still target. Few people ever shoot a gun while running, climbing or during a simulated confrontation of any kind. The targets we shoot are essentially "sitting ducks" painted to look like terrorists, zombies or ex-husbands.
When I speak on the Second Amendment, I tell women to train in the shoes they wear to work. Studies suggest that women actually shoot well in heels, perhaps because women feel a psychological power surge when they are taller. Whatever the reason, women are more likely to encounter a confrontation in their work clothes, so practicing in our comfortable shooting shoes might be a deadly mistake.
A leaner, meaner kind of training
James Barnhart trains people to be ready for the unknown. He calls his training defensive conditioning.
Barnhart was involved in a gunfight of his own, and he echoes Schneider's warning of the hollow promise of a well-practiced range shooter when confronted with an actual situation. His story is different, but the psychology is the same.
Barnhart told WND that two men pulled up behind him as he returned home from the grocery store one evening. He remembers the moment when the men jumped from their vehicle and started shooting at him.
Barnhart's reaction time was longer than he expected, as he mentally tried to adjust to this surprise situation. After a moment, he drew his pistol and hit the driver seven times and the passenger three times. He was uninjured.
Barnhart had just completed his time with the Navy and was beginning a career in fugitive recovery and executive protection. He was highly trained, but he realized he was not ready for a confrontation that was not on his own terms.
He told WND that confrontations are never on our own terms. That is the very nature of a confrontation, and why it is our natural inclination to avoid the very thought of confrontation, even verbal confrontation. It is that same psychology that causes people to blissfully deny the reality of a shooting confrontation when "training" for combat.
Barnhart said, "What I realized that night was that the physiological aspects of this encounter were very different than when we were kicking in doors at a crack house, because I was caught by surprise."
There is no way to be completely trained and conditioned for every defensive situation, but we can look at patterns in our lives and deduce priorities.
Both Schneiders and Barnhart could have mentally prepared for their confrontations, if they had taken time to look at their own patterns and habits, and examined the risk involved in their lives.
In Part 2 of this series, "Psychology of violent confrontation," I have designed an inventory that will help guide you through your own mental preparation for confrontation. Look for that in my column next week.