Statistics and Self Defense

I’d like to spend a few moments to again think about thinking. I know, your head is starting to hurt already. I’ve talked before about feedback loops, often called double feedback loops in system thinking because you have to do them more than once for each decision. Not having them can make our training a house of cards.

Using the feedback loops allows us to decide if a course of action is correct and if it fits into our plan. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a tactic, technique or gear will allow us to account for them in our, “What if” training.

Another problem with our reasoning is if we jump straight to feedback loops without checking our sources of information. It amounts to creating our own straw man arguments.

I’ll use the example of what range an average gunfight happens. I looked at the data from police shootings and civilian shootings, screened it for applicability to my circumstances and came up with a three to seven yards.

For years an idea circulated that civilian encounters were zero to one yard thus we will never use our sights and need to learn to fight hand to hand. The oft cited source was the FBI’s law enforcement killed page and anecdotal street fights. Officers often get killed with contact wounds, ambushed at close range, etc. When one takes the time to look at why that happens (double feedback loop) we find officers often have bad guys wrestle with them during an arrest. This can lead to a zero to one yard shooting. Rarely does the bad guy start the close contact. It is the officer trying to put hands on them during an arrest. We also have ambushes where a bad guy walks up to an officer and shoots them at point-blank range. Certainly officers need to plan for this in their what ifs (hint, the answer has nothing to do with jujitsu or street fighting). When we look at civilian encounters we just don’t see the same thing happening to us except under very limited circumstances where someone you know hates you enough to assassinate you (getting a divorce or family/business dispute). Thus the zero to one yard stat actually has almost nothing to do with us. It’s just a product of using good stats and conflating them to a different problem. Nassim Taleb, author of the Black Swan books, would probably call it an incorrect bracketing issue. It’s not that we need to ignore the problem but that the, “Fix” to that, “What if” is totally different from normal day-to-day, “What if”. I’ll talk about how to deal with these low-frequency, “Black Swans” in a future post.

When we look at civilian encounters we find that use of a firearm is almost exclusively used to thwart a robbery. In public, in a burglary or home invasion. These type of encounters rarely involve physical contact. On those rare occasions I found a pattern that showed people pulled out their gun to stop a crime then hesitated to shoot them. This allowed the bad guy to close the distance and fight over the good guy’s gun. In the rare situations not involving a robbery, burglary/home invasion it usually involved two people in a bar or in a home where the people knew each other. Usually those situations involved alcohol and ended with a wrestling match. After the wrestling the bad guy then went to a car or another room, got a gun and returned to shoot the suspect at close range. Again that is not something that our normal, “What ifs” are going to fix. The stats don’t show that the bad guy went and got a gun after the wrestling match and not during it. If these facts apply to you, you may want to check your life and how you live it. That will help more than self-defense thoughts.

This isn’t about needing to know how to street fight (We’ll get there, just not yet). It’s about knowing the law and thus knowing when to display the gun and when not to. It also involves knowing when you are fighting over your own gun and how that can evolve into lethal force. If we never look at and question the stats via feedback loops we could spend years believing something that is not true.

What’s the moral of this post? We need to think about the law and how it applies to us. That is just or more important than being the worlds best shot. We need to critically look at all our sources. Sometimes they are BS and sometimes they are great but don’t apply to our life. We need to work through the feedback loop more than once. Doing it once means we assumed. Doing it more than once leads us to good ideas and solutions.


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