Given the events of last Saturday in Tucson, Arizona and all the noise in the news and blogosphere good and bad on all sides of the fence, it’s hard not to take a moment to reflect on those events and what they mean to any sane, thinking person. I think most of us would agree that no amount of reflection by insane people upon the events which have unfolded are likely to yield any useful insights. It might be amusing to hear what they have to say, though. You never know, one of those loons might hit upon something truly profound from the confines of their padded rooms and straightjackets, but I wouldn’t count on it.
The first thing that occurs to me arising from the tragedy in Tucson is, I think, self evident: despite the fact that we are supposedly living in a “civilized” society, no one is “safe” anywhere or anytime. This is not a new observation by any means, but I think it bears repeating. According to Wikipedia, Tucson is the 32ND largest city in the U.S. with a population of just a little over 1 million as of 2009. A quick perusal of Tucson’s crime statistics reveal a city with above average criminal activity both in comparison to the state of Arizona and the U.S. as a whole. According to one website, it’s the number 18 most dangerous metropolitan area in America.
Even taking that into consideration, I think we can all agree that it is abnormal for an incident such as what occurred last Saturday to occur as evidenced by the fact that these types of mass shootings immediately make the national media and stay in the public eye for long periods of time. Several years later, we still remember and talk about what happened at Columbine High School. Several decades later, people still remember what Charles Whitman did on the campus of the University of Texas. Both of those incidents occurred in cities considered “safer” than Tucson, and yet they still occurred.
Broad daylight or dark of night, suburb or metropolitan city. It makes no difference to the criminal. Those people intent upon doing harm to others will find a time, a place and a way to commit mayhem. A prime example of this is an incident that occurred here in the Dallas area suburb of Garland, TX in 2008. James Broadnax and Demarius Cummings took the DART Blue Line train from South Dallas to the last stop in downtown Garland where they murdered two unarmed men, Matthew Butler and Stephen Swan, who were standing outside a Christian recording studio. The murders were part of a robbery that netted Broadnax and Cummings $2.00 and one of the victims’ car. Their stated reason for going to Garland: that was where all “the rich white people were.” Anyone who knows the Dallas area will know that Garland is not where all “the rich white people” are.
That brings me to the second thing I want to talk about which I’ve already partially addressed in the preceding paragraph: criminals, by their very nature, disobey the laws instituted by well intentioned legislators to keep us “safe” from each other. The sad truth is that you cannot legislate morality and human decency. Human nature is such that good and evil reside in all of us. Some people lean more heavily to one predisposition or the other. Some people are law abiding citizens who understand that a lock means keep out. Some people are not so law abiding for which no amount of locks will keep them out. Some people are intent upon committing violence against others and will find the means to do so regardless of what laws are on the books. A fist is a rock, is a knife, is a gun as far as some people are concerned: all just a means to commit the evil in their hearts. More laws and more restrictions won’t change that. Laws only apply to those who are willing to obey them.
The next observation I’d like to discuss is the sheer miraculousness that unfolded amid the tragedy in Tucson. There is no denying that the death of six people for no other reason than the insanity of a deranged mind is a tragedy. My heart truly goes out to the families of those who were killed or injured. No one should have to go through that. But…but, 14 people survived their wounds where they very easily could have died. Had the shooter been less deranged or more skilled or something, the outcome could have been very different. One of the 14 wounded, Representative Giffords, took a 9mm bullet to the head which went through the left side of the brain and not only lived but will possibly even fully recover. Think about that for a moment. She was shot from what most people consider point blank range with a not insubstantial round and will survive. I haven’t been able to find out what kind of ammunition the shooter was using or what path the bullet took through Ms. Giffords’ brain, but how can you describe that by any other word than “miracle”?
Lastly, I want to comment on some of the chest beating going on in the interwebs about self defense. I’ve seen more than one post or comment to the effect of: “Had I been there, I’d have put two in the chest and one the head.” or “I’d have charged the SOB, taken his gun from him, and beat him senseless with it.” I don’t know much, but this I know: there’s not a man or woman alive that knows what he or she is capable of until after it’s all said and done.
I know that the events of Tucson have reawakened me to examining my beliefs and feelings about self defense. I have spent the past week thinking about what self defense means. To those who think they can be Joe Rambo when the stuffing hits the fan, I submit that, for me, self defense means the defense (not offense) of one’s self and not everyone else or physical property. That may seem a little callous, selfish and self centered, but stop for a moment and think about the ramifications of taking direct action against another person especially if you have not been directly involved in the situation from the very beginning. At best, you are going to be arrested, booked, charged, post bail and eventually be “no billed” by a grand jury incurring significant legal expenses and other consequences in the process. At worst, you could face serious jail time for an unjustified shooting and the complete ruining of your life and the lives of others.
Until you’ve been through a stressful situation, you do not know how you will react or how well you will be able to focus and analyze what’s happening. You may know your own intents and purposes; and, to a lesser extent, those of people close to you (family and friends). However, you cannot know the thoughts or intentions of complete strangers. Under stress, you may not have the same level of judgment and discernment that you normally rely upon. In my opinion, the best thing you can do in the event that you are confronted with someone threatening you is to call 911 and move you and yours away from the area of danger as quickly as possible. If evading the threat is not possible, find the best cover or concealment you can and be prepared to take action necessary to protect yourself.
Despite what the castle doctrine of several states says, that applies to events occurring in your own home as well. So what if someone is trying to break into your home to steal your stuff? If you can leave, leave. Is there any amount of physical property worth a human life? I don’t think there is. So why would we shoot someone trying to steal something that can be replaced?
What will you do when faced with a situation outside the bounds of common decency and law? Have you thought about it? Have you taken the time to look inside yourself and decide what you believe in and what you are willing to do to another human being when everything turns upside down? Have you taken the personal responsibility to prepare yourself physically, emotionally and mentally for when very bad things happen, or are you blindly stumbling through life with no plan and no awareness?
At one time, I studied the martial arts and attained the rank of brown belt in one of the disciplines. There was a time when my martial arts class was asked to be the “attackers” for the women’s “self defense” class taught at the college I attended. We were there so that the “self defense” class, populated almost entirely by sorority girls looking for an easy A, could practice the “techniques” they had been taught. When I grabbed the arm of one of the girls, she actually asked me, her “attacker”, what she was supposed to do. I told her that I couldn’t help her because I was busy taking her purse, her jewelry, etc. She had no clue. She was the proverbial sheep waiting to be slaughtered. She had been told what was coming but was unprepared. In a way, I felt sorry for her.
Balance that with the view of my martial arts instructor. He taught us the three Ds of martial response in a self defense situation: Disarm, Disable, Destroy (also known as Hurt, Maim, Kill). Of course, that philosophy only applied once you got into a situation where you needed to use some level of force.
The thing that has stuck with me most about my martial arts training was that self defense involves more than just the physical act of using force to stop or divert an attack. You have to be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. You have to know your abilities and limitations. You have to know the consequences of your actions. Most importantly, you have to be willing to live with those consequences, good or bad.