Written by: Greg Ellifritz
It’s a rewarding thing to watch my firearms students as they learn and progress. They start with safe gun handling skills, the basics of marksmanship, and learning when it is legally appropriate to shoot someone. If they continue training, they might learn more “tactical” or combative shooting skills. As their abilities improve, they might move on to more scenario oriented classes using role players armed with Simunition or airsoft guns.
During the scenario-oriented classes I teach, students often have the most problems with verbal interactions rather than physical skills. This holds true in both unarmed fighting classes and classes focused on weapon use. Students’ physical skills (either shooting or fighting) are usually good enough that they can “win” the scenarios I create. Where they falter is in the area of verbal interaction.
Students have three basic problems with verbal interaction during the pre-attack phase of a crime about to be committed:
1) They don’t have adequate experience communicating assertively or aggressively. Society rewards people who are compliant and go with the flow. Loud, aggressive, and dominant language is discouraged among civilized people. How many times have you heard a parent scold their child by saying “Use your INSIDE voice”? We just don’t get much practice being aggressive in our daily lives.
2) Auditory exclusion kicks in. Under most stressful circumstances, the brain has to prioritize the vast amount of data that it is processing. In most cases, priority will be given to information provided by our sight. Hearing things becomes more difficult as sight is prioritized. Students regularly report that they hear their attackers’ voices sounding like the “Wah Wah Wah” sounds of Charlie Brown’s teacher. They know the attacker is saying something but just don’t have the brain power to devote to listening. It’s hard to communicate assertively if you aren’t picking up the words your attacker may be using.
3) The student’s ego gets involved. This one happens primarily when the attacker either insults the defender or fails to obey the defender’s verbal commands. When either of these things happen, the student often becomes enraged. They stop thinking and get caught up in an ever-escalating yelling match with the criminal. Some criminals will even bait their victims into this escalation game. They know that if they can enrage the victim, he or she is less likely to think clearly.
The first two problems are relatively easy to deal with. Assertive communication can be taught and practiced. Auditory exclusion can be reduced through the “stress-innoculation” effects of repeated scenario training.
It’s the third problem that I have the most difficulty rectifying. I still remember a retired Colonel in the US Army who came through one of my scenario training classes at TDI. The Colonel was confronted with the scenario of finding an unarmed drunk man in his house at night. The scenario was supposed to simulate an event where an intoxicated person stumbled into the wrong house by mistake.
The Colonel, who was an excellent shooter and tactician, pointed his gun at the intruder and ordered him to leave the house. It was a very good judgement call as the “drunk’ was not acting threatening in any way. The fun started when the drunk man refused to leave, saying words to the effect of “Chill out dude. It’s all cool. You don’t need to resort to violence. Come on, I’ll get you a beer.” The Colonel verbally escalated. The drunk just stayed calm and mellow, but refused to leave. The situation became even more heated and the Colonel started yelling. His face was red and he was shaking. He wasn’t scared. He was pissed! The Colonel just wasn’t used to people disobeying his direct orders! He didn’t have a mental map of what he should do because in his experience as a high ranking military officer, people always did exactly what he told them to do!
Unfortunately, criminals aren’t the best listeners…even when they have a gun pointed at their faces. I’ve lost count of how many times a criminal has disobeyed my lawful commands even as a uniformed police officer. I once had a domestic violence suspect try to physically attack me while I was holding him at gunpoint with a shotgun and ordering him to get down on the ground. It’s actually quite common. I’ll bet most of you haven’t really thought about the issue.
One Michigan store clerk had a noteworthy recent experience with a criminal who didn’t listen to verbal commands. The elderly store clerk had just refused to sell a man beer because the man was already obviously intoxicated. Heated words were exchanged between the drunk man and the elderly clerk. The drunk man threatened the clerk and then opened his jacket and showed the store clerk that he had a gun in his waistband. The store clerk drew his own gun to defend himself.
The clerk called the police and then ordered the drunk customer to get on the ground. The man refused. He never drew the weapon, but he refused every one of the clerk’s demands. Eventually a couple of police officers arrived. They too ordered the drunk to the ground. He didn’t listen to them either. It wasn’t clear how they did it, but the officers wrestled the armed man to the ground and arrested him. The gun turned out to be a BB pistol. Read more about the story at the link below:
What would you have done in that situation? The drunk is armed with what you think is a real pistol. He refuses your commands to either leave or get down on the ground, but he doesn’t go for the gun either. It’s a tough spot to be in. Would you shoot?
I think the best answer is “no”. Even with that said, some folks might legitimately make the decision to shoot rationalizing their actions as “better safe than sorry”. I really can’t fault someone for that logic in a situation like the one described above.
As surprising as it sounds, I’ve seen many instances in training where as student gets more and more agitated with the role player’s non-compliance and then just shoots the role player out of sheer frustration! As the student gets ever more enraged at the role player’s audacity in ignoring commands, higher order thought processes become harder to perform. If the student was calm, he might be able to think about an alternate solution. That doesn’t work so well when the student is angry.
Don’t let you ego interfere with your safety. EXPECT the criminal to ignore your commands and have a backup plan for when it happens. Don’t get angry. Don’t allow the criminal to manipulate you by challenging your ego. I’ve seen it happen in both real life and in training. The results are not pretty.
Mentally program yourself right now. Expect criminal non-compliance. Think through your options. If the criminal doesn’t comply, but doesn’t escalate, you generally have a little time to act. At first indication of such an experience, either use the opportunity to escape or transition to another, more appropriate, weapon.
Don’t get angry and do something you might regret in the future. The elderly store clerk in this story stayed cool and prevailed. You can too.