Being your own protective agent

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Being your own protective agent

Most of us are not in a position to afford protective agents. In general this is not a problem, because most of us face no danger in our lives, and do not need protective agents, and, in truth, would find their presence constraining and onerous. Even with this being true, under what extraordinary circumstances might we normal people, face the danger of physical assault?

As a rule of thumb, you will find yourself in danger of assault for one of two reasons: Bad judgment or bad luck. In both cases you end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Bad judgment involves your choosing to be someplace that you shouldn’t be, at a time when you shouldn’t be there. Thus, while you have a right to be anyplace any time, this author would not choose to go jogging, alone, in Central Park at 11 P.M.. And it is clear to most of us that there are neighborhoods in which our mere presence evokes some hostility from those around us. To a large extent, we have initial control of the situation, and have chosen to be where we are. There are a lot of things you can do to keep these types of incidents from happening, mostly by exercising prudence and reasonable judgment.

Bad luck is not within our control: We are someplace where we have a reasonable expectation of safety, at a time when we have a reasonable expectation of safety, and are caught up in circumstances beyond our control, and in events so statistically anomalous as to be un-preventable. Thus, one could not be faulted for renewing our license at the DMV on the rare day that a cranky patron becomes crazed. Or in a Wendy’s when a former employee decides to violently rob the place. Or in a school when some students, who have, over time, become increasingly and obviously alienated and scary, try to blow (or shoot) the place up. Or on a commuter train when a madman starts shooting. Or in a retail store which is being robbed, again. While these circumstances beyond your control might have been prevented by the actions of others, there is nothing you might have done to prevent them.

In some cases in which your life is actually in danger during an assault, a claim might be made that having a gun would have allowed the situation to be ended in a timely manner. While this is true in theory, in practice there are a few problems. For a start, while the likelihood of being involved in such an incident approaches zero, you will still need to carry a gun with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to have it with you the one time you need it. This may not seem like a big deal, but carrying a couple of pounds of steel strapped to you, always covered up yet accessible, is extremely onerous. Indeed, it is so onerous that most people who get concealed carry permits carry a gun for a few weeks, then, the novelty having worn off, never carry one again.

A more serious flaw is the fact that, unless you have thought it through in advance, you are unlikely to react appropriately in a crisis situation. Thus, while a gun is used by a civilian in the US about once every 14 seconds, and about 75 lives are saved by a gun in civilian hands for every life lost, most of these are what we might term “normal” uses, where there is a robbery or a similar incident about which you have thought, and where you have the leisure to act in an appropriate manner.

But if you are sitting in a train, and bullets suddenly start flying it is much less likely that you will react appropriately. Thus, unconfirmed rumor has it that there were 7 armed people on the Long Island Railroad when Colin Ferguson started shooting, including 2 police officers, yet nobody intervened. Indeed, during the rather lengthy periods when Ferguson was reloading, nobody took action. Thus, while a gun or other emergency safety tool in the hands of a trained user able to react appropriately will end an unexpected violent situation, it is rare for either a civilian or a law enforcement officer to be sufficiently well-trained and mentally prepared to act appropriately in unanticipated and unplanned-for circumstances.

Putting aside these incidents so statistically rare that they make the front page of every major newspaper in the world, what emergency safety tools other than guns might be available to help deal with more defensible assaults. One that springs to mind is personal defense sprays. This author was responsible for the general commercial introduction of pepper-based sprays to the law enforcement community at the 1988 conference of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers (ASLET), for the introduction of training for law enforcement in the use of personal defense sprays at the 1989 ASLET conference, and for the introduction of a civilian program at the 1990 ASLET conference. At that time personal defense sprays based on tear gas (CN and CS) had fallen into disfavor within law enforcement: CN was in disfavor because it was too mild, and worked poorly on pain-resistant subjects, with about a 30% failure to control rate. CS was more effective with about a 12% failure to control rate, but there was still a cloud over it because of its use on civilians in the ‘60s. (Note that there are now also CS/OC blends, which give roughly an 8% failure-to- control rate.) Philosophical objections aside, the major problem was that CS and CN are irritants and work by causing pain, and, by definition, pain- resistant subjects don’t feel pain.

Pepper-based sprays, often referred to as aerosol subject restraints (ASRs) (or OC, because the active ingredient is generally oleoresin capsicum), unlike teargas, are not irritants and do not work by causing pain. Rather, they are inflammatory agents, and work when the atomized vapor is inhaled, causing the capillaries of the trachea to dilate, producing uncontrollable coughing. And, important from the view of law enforcement, because they are bronco-dilators, rather than bronco-constrictors, they were unlikely to harm those with asthma.

The good news was that, in the hands of a trained user, ASRs had a near- zero failure-to-control rate on pain-resistant subjects. The bad news was that in the hands of an untrained user they could have up to a 70% failure-to- control rate. Since the average police department devotes less than 4 hours per year to firearms training, the urge to train adequately in use of a personal defense spray often seems hard for a department to justify.

But even assuming that one had an appropriate emergency safety tool and training in its use, and the mindset to use it in a crisis situation, the goal of personal safety still remains one of avoiding confrontations, rather than winning them. This is the subject of a book, not an article. Fortunately, this author has written just such a book, and has made it available for download free on the Internet.

For more information about personal safety in general, including use of personal defense sprays, you should read The Seven Steps to Personal Safety. With over 20,000 copies in print, this book is widely regarded as the leading book for civilians on dealing with violence.

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