The Lion, the Vic, and the Perp: Keeping a Cool Head Under Pressure

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The Lion, the Vic, and the Perp: Keeping a Cool Head Under Pressure

After taking over a new pride, the first thing a male lion will do is kill the offspring of his defeated rival in order to ensure the females are willing to mate with him and raise his young. However, he does not bound in and quickly dispatch the lot in one fell swoop, though he is clearly capable. No, he must work himself up to it. He starts with innocent playing, batting the cub back and forth with his paw, perhaps some soft mouthing. The unsuspecting cub follows suit, joining in the fun. The play gets rougher and rougher, and when the lion has worked himself into a sufficiently frenzied state, his instincts kick in and he crushes the cub’s unfortunate little head in his mighty jaws.

Where am I going with this lurid description of bestial cruelty? I am illustrating the point that even for one of the most powerful predators on the planet — nature’s perfect killing machine, violence is not a natural state; it is a response to stimuli, a heightened state which must be worked up to, even if one must supply the stimulus themselves. The purpose of this article is to give you some insight into how to respond to an aggressor, and how to avoid provoking violence.

Let me preface this article by saying I have never been mugged, I have never been assaulted, and I have never had a gun pointed at me in malice (I have had several pointed at me in stupidity, but that comes with the territory when you run a shooting range). These insights are based solely on the accounts of those more experienced than myself, a keen observation of human nature, and the occasional nature documentary on PBS. Were I to be held at gunpoint in some dark alley and asked to stand and deliver, there is a distinct possibility that I would immediately evacuate my bowel, curl into the fetal position, and begin weeping like a small child. But if I ever do have the misfortune of being mugged, I will do my best to follow my own advice and report back to you. Now, on to the advice…

Remain calm: As stated above, most violent acts are in response to stimuli. I am not a forensic psychologist, but I suspect that on some level even the most degenerate criminal feels the need to justify his actions to himself. A display of aggression on the part of the victim is met with violent defensive response from the criminal – he had it coming. A display of fear on the part of the victim provokes an instinctual predatory response from the criminal – it’s survival of the fittest and I took what was mine. Your best course of action when confronted by a criminal is to politely hand over your valuables with a smile, like handing money to a toll booth operator. Report the crime, cancel your credit cards, and move on with your life. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck uses overwhelming kindness and civility to confuse and confound the opposing team’s defensive players, and I suspect the strategy would have a similar effect on muggers.

Now, let’s assume you have a gun. For the most part the same advice applies; hand over your wallet and move on. Trying to shoot a would-be mugger will probably not end well for you. If he has a gun, chances are it’s already pointed at you and it’s too late; this is not a Clint Eastwood movie, and even if you are very fast on the draw, this will probably just result in both of you getting shot. If he doesn’t have a gun, there may be some very unpleasant legal and social consequences to shooting him.

That being said, there are some individuals who are capable of extreme violence without so much as an elevated heartbeat or bead of sweat. These people are psychopaths, they are rare, but they are out there. There may be a situation in which you are convinced that your attacker means to do you eminent harm with no need for provocation or stimulus. In this case you must choose the least bad option and defend yourself. So let’s talk about your draw (be it a pistol or a knife, the same rules apply). There is a saying that I first heard during my EMT training, although I’m sure it has been used in many different contexts: “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. Through the transitive property of equality, this leads you to the paradoxical conclusion that slow=fast. However, in this particular instance speed isn’t really the issue, but smoothness is.

As I mentioned before, an old west quick draw competition will more than likely result in both of you getting shot. Regardless of how fast it is, any sudden motion will alert your attacker of your intentions and he will no doubt defend himself. The key here is to be able to draw your weapon in a smooth and relaxed motion so that your opponent doesn’t realize what you’re doing until he’s staring down the barrel. You need to master being able to draw your pistol with the same nonchalance with which you would hand someone a newspaper. After making absolutely sure your pistol is unloaded, you should practice this at home (hint: get in the habit of sticking your pinky in the chamber of your pistol after you have unloaded it, I know of two people who have had negligent discharges after they dropped the magazine and locked the slide back, but failed to notice that the extractor did not pull the round out of the chamber). Wear the clothes you would normally wear on an evening out with your pistol holstered in its usual way, and practice in front of a mirror until the motion is completely smooth and second nature to you.

While you can and should practice your draw at home, practicing controlling your emotions and actions in an extremely stressful situation is another story. Short of going all Charles Bronson in “Death Wish” and walking through a bad neighborhood with an expensive camera slung over your shoulder (which I would not recommend), there is really no way to practice your response to a mugging situation. My only advice is to do what successful athletes do, and visualize the situation. Play through the scenario in your head and imagine how you will respond; imagine controlling your breathing, your heart rate, your facial expressions. Practice controlling your emotions in common everyday stressful situations; when someone cuts you off in traffic or steals your parking space, practice maintaining a calm demeanor. Most importantly, just be mindful and present whenever you are out in public.

I hope that neither I nor anyone reading this is ever put in a position where this advice is needed, but if the situation does arise, I hope this advice helps you walk away; maybe a few dollars poorer, but unharmed. I firmly believe that the most important aspect of maintaining your personal physical security is the ability to keep a cool head and deescalate stressful situations.

Thomas Willis
Thomas Willis is a former Range Master with the Monterey County Parks Department and an NRA certified firearms instructor. He has over seven years of experience training new shooters and advising clients on defensive firearms tactics.