In times like these, with increasing uncertainty over economic, political and social issues, people react in a number of ways. As people become apprehensive about such problems and how they might be affected, they also seem to become more concerned about their physical safety, as well. Currently I am seeing a renewed interest in personal protection by citizens of our community, and this is by no means unique to any one area. Local seminars about personal safety and self defense, whether sponsored by local law enforcement agencies or private training providers, are well attended and generate some very enthusiastic discussion. Inevitably, even at seminars where firearms are not specifically discussed, someone will ask about buying a gun for protection. The same questions are being asked directly to police officers, often by their friends, family members or other people in the community, who see law enforcement professionals as experts on firearms.
Often they are not, of course, but the public sees them carrying a gun every day, so the assumption is made accordingly. Regardless of how the questions are presented, and whatever the level of your expertise, it is a good idea to have a reasonable answer ready. In many communities the police are supportive of people owning guns for self protection. But, I say reasonable answer because in some areas, the police don't think that ordinary citizens should be allowed to own guns. If someone is seriously asking the question, they aren't looking for a dismissive answer or condescending response that says, in so many words, We don't think you can handle it. I'd like to make a few suggestions that should be useful, regardless of where you stand on the possession and use of firearms by the citizens of your community.
Realistic Need Assessment
One of the first things you should address is whether there is a realistic need for someone to own a gun for personal protection. I'll tell you up front that there are many instances where there is a definite need. I'll also tell you that there are cases where someone has exaggerated their situation, overreacted to some limited situation or became alarmed listening to rumors or gossip. As a professional who has the responsibility to protect and serve, you need to be able to realistically evaluate the factors that are influencing the person, or people, and help them decide if their concerns are valid. If they are, your advice should be appropriate to the circumstances.
Too often police agencies don't want to recommend that people buy guns because they don't want to be seen as endorsing the use of deadly force. By the same token, how can we morally and ethically advise someone that what they want to do, exercising a constitutionally recognized right, is the wrong thing to do? While I don't advocate that police tell everyone who asks to get a gun, I also think that if the circumstances might call for the use of deadly force, it is irresponsible to discourage a person from being adequately protected. I realize that it is easier to just say no when someone asks. But if no is the wrong answer, you need to be honest and guide the person accordingly.
You often hear the advice to never say never or never say always, but here is one always for you: Whenever someone asks me about ANY self defense tool, whether it is a firearm, OC spray, Tasers, other weapons or unarmed defensive tactics, my first advice is ALWAYS: Make sure you have received training in the use of whatever tool you have selected! Every self defense tool or technique has its proper uses and improper uses. The most responsible advice you can give starts with this admonition. It is also good advice if you are concerned about liability. Always recommend that a person understand the choice they have made and how to properly apply that choice. For example, one of the most basic considerations about owning a gun for self protection is: can you make the decision to use it if you are faced with deadly peril? Can you take the life of another human being, if necessary, and cope with the consequences? Can you safely and responsibly handle and use a firearm? Will you participate in proper training? If you can't, or won't, then don't buy a gun. Seek alternatives and be prepared to protect yourself in other ways. What other ways?
People tend to see objects - tools - as a solution to everything. Have the right tool and you're good to go. When discussing these issues with your community, you need to let them know that the primary tool for self protection is the standard issue human brain. It all starts there, and too often the brain is neglected. Many of the people I talk with don't have even a basic understanding of situational awareness. In other words, they go through life in, as the late Col. Jeff Cooper described it, Condition White. They are unaware of their surroundings and are unprepared for what happens. They don't anticipate, they don't analyze and they don't make adjustments to their activities in response to danger signals that are presented. If someone is concerned about their own personal safety, the first thing you should do is train them in awareness and responsiveness to their environment. Avoidance of a problem is the easiest win over the bad things that can happen.
People who opt-out of gun ownership might consider such things as pepper spray, electronic control devices or unarmed self defense techniques. Actually, I'm an advocate for the use of all of them in the proper circumstances. That, of course, requires a lot of training. Most people don't want to devote that much time, energy or even thought to the subject, so some guidance from you can either encourage or discourage such choices.
The big question is, how much do you know about the proper non-law enforcement use of such products or techniques? The rules are different for ordinary folks, as are the tools. Someone in your organization should be knowledgeable and prepared to offer training to the people who want to choose these alternatives. At the very least, once you have encouraged them to be trained, you need to be able to refer them to someone qualified to do the training, even if it is a private provider.
But, I Want A Gun
What if the person wants to go ahead with buying a gun? From this point, there are two paths to follow. From the agency standpoint, it would be wise to have a policy in place that is acceptable to all concerned. Often the knee-jerk reaction is Hell no! But consider this, millions of people in this country own guns. At the rate we're going, many more are becoming gun owners every day. I, for one, would rather that people make informed decisions about gun ownership.
I think that agencies that aren't responsive to the public demand leave the door wide open for ignorance and mistakes by the people they are trying to serve. The agency should have information available about applicable gun laws, firearms safety and available training resources. In addition to training people in firearms safety, marksmanship and the proper use of deadly force, I spend quite a bit of time helping armed citizens learn how to safely interact with law enforcement personnel. I have also spent time trying to help cops try to learn how to safely interact with lawfully armed citizens. It would be a service to your community to willingly discuss such issues with people who are, or want to be, armed. I know that the police generally see the dark side of firearms misuse, accidents and criminal behavior. But there are a lot of honest people out there that just want to do the right thing. This is where your department can make friends in the community, as well as improve safety and voluntary compliance with the law.
As individual officers, you may be able to offer personal opinions that would not be appropriate coming from your agency. Your department may have a policy that they won't endorse or recommend private providers of services or specific brands or products. So be it. But individual officers are going to be approached in informal situations where their personal expertise is appreciated and valued. If you have such expertise, that's good. If you don't, please say so, and be prepared to refer the person to someone who does. One of the frustrating things about my line of work is that I often have to correct misinformation or bad advice that people have received, even from well-meaning people who are seriously trying to help. The word of a police officer in such matters carries a lot of weight. Please weigh your words carefully.
The proper choice of a firearm is dependent on many factors, such as:
- the person's ability
- dedication to training and safety
- environment in which the gun will be stored or carried
- whether it will be kept in a home or place of business, kept in a vehicle or carried concealed.
Handguns may be appropriate for any of these cases, but shotguns or rifles may be good choices for some as well. Although concealed carry is becoming more and more prevalent, not everyone who buys a gun is going to actually carry it. Home protection is a much more common objective than frequent concealed carry. All this means that there are seemingly endless choices, which is probably the reason that people are asking you for advice in the first place. Again, be prepared to give helpful advice or be prepared to refer people to someone who can.
Remember, a well reasoned response will show people you have given serious thought to a subject that they consider important. If you don't take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves, you will miss a valuable way to contribute to the safety of your community.