Guest Article: To Arms!, by William Crosby Prentice

The title of this essay could be either a call to action, or a toast to weapons.  Either way, the purpose is to discuss the decision of whether or not, and to what extent, a person should be armed.  The author is biased in favor of being as heavily armed as is legal under any given circumstances, and has a hard time coming up with reasons for not being armed.

The Right of Self Defense
I would bet that nearly all of those that regularly visit SurvivalBlog will agree that a person has a natural right, independent of and senior to any legal system, to defend his life and property.  This audience would also tend to agree that this right extends to defending others who are under an attack that could result in their loss of life or sustaining great bodily injury. 

The perversion by government of the self-defense right, and the attempt by governments to create a monopoly on the use of force, is at the root of our problems with government.  There are many governments, such as that of New Zealand, that do not recognize a right of self defense.  The United Nations also has trouble with that concept. The assertion by governments of a monopoly on use of force and denying it to individuals, and the use of that force to coerce obedience, to seize property, and to take lives, is perhaps the greatest of all evils.

Denying that individuals have the right of self-defense is an amazing thing, but you hear “civilized” people make that argument all the time.  Once you have been conditioned to think that the right to self defense is even debatable, you might find yourself also debating whether or not you should even consider arming yourself to do so.  If you are worrying about whether or not you should or can arm yourself, then this essay is aimed at you.

Humans have big brains, and are bipedal, so that they can maximize the use of “tools.”  A review of the scientific literature makes it clear that “tools” is a PC alternative to the word “weapons.”  Humans are hard-wired to use weapons, and being interested in perfecting that ability does not make you uncivilized, it makes you more human.  Being disarmed makes you a slave rather than a citizen, a human beast of burden, who differs from a plow-horse only in that a human slave is also a “tax-payer.”

Many people have an innate abhorrence of weapons, and regard any act consistent with owning or using a weapon to be inexcusable.  Weapons guru Jeff Cooper coined the term “hoplophobic” to describe them.  The views of such people are ignored in this paper, because such irrational sentiments are of no interest to evolved humans who believe in individual freedom and personal responsibility.  (Note: I am often seized by a perverse desire to see the onset of a TEOTWAWKI event because hoplophobes and their progeny will be among the first to succumb, greatly benefiting the species.)

To defend your life and property you have to be willing to fight, and fighting involves weapons.  The array of weapons ranges from the natural weapons of the human body that martial artists seek to develop, to the group-served weapons and machines fielded by modern armies.  It would be nice to live on a nuclear powered aircraft carrier and use it for your personal protection, or to have a fleet of armed drones at your disposal to eliminate your enemies, but that would mean enslaving millions of tax-payers and forcing them to pay for it.  Let’s take a look at what is possible and effective for the individual to use for his own defense and those of his family or tribe.

Threat Assessment
A professional security assessment, whether involving the geopolitical strategy of a superpower or the defense of a small antimony mine in the ungoverned regions of Honduras, is built around the definition and analysis of a threat.  As in all strategic exercises, we begin not with what we think we know, but with the right questions, which in this context would include:

  • What/who is the threat, and its objectives, means, weapons, and capabilities?
  • What is the realistic probability of attack, and can you change that by deterrence/avoidance?
  • If there is an attack, what is the most effective response/defense? and,
  • How will the threat evolve if and when you successfully deal with an attack?

Security assessments for major commercial facilities in dangerous environments are often substantial documents requiring hundreds of man-hours from a diverse group of experts to compile.  For our purposes, the model can be condensed into a shorthand form that, with practice, can be effectively applied to any situation.  Let’s look at a few situations:

Wild Animal Attack – This can include mountain biking in Orange County, where lions have attempted to feast on bikers, or the backpacker entering grizzly country in Yellowstone, or the older couple taking their grandchildren to the local park where a pair of pit bulls is running amok (don’t freak – I like pit bulls, grizzlies and cougars!).  The probability of such an attack is normally small, but indeterminate; an attack might be avoided or deterred depending on the circumstances (aggressively resisting a mildly hungry cougar) or avoided with timely local intel (avoiding a recent grizzly kill noted on a map for you by a ranger).  If you can’t rely on avoidance/deterrence, then I prefer a large-caliber rifle (my 500 A-Square works great on cape buffalo), but that isn’t usually convenient and might not be legal, so a large-caliber pistol is the most practical defense most of the time.  Evolution of the threat isn’t a consideration – you aren’t likely to shoot a grizzly to death one day and find another one wearing Kevlar the next.

Muggers – The most commonly portrayed self-defense situation is that of a person innocently going about their business in public and being robbed, assaulted, or jacked.  Again, you might be targeted or randomly selected, and although avoidance/deterrence is possible, it can’t be depended upon.  The self-defense handgun you train with most regularly is the right weapon to carry here, but if it is illegal to carry a pistol, and you chose to refrain from doing so, then by all means equip yourself with the appropriate number of knives and a sturdy walking stick. Threat evolution is a factor – muggers learn to avoid people who might be carrying, and might also focus on gun-free zones.

Home Invasion, Burglary – When you are sitting at home, or lying in bed, you probably feel pretty safe, and you might be, particularly if you have a good security system, which should include dogs and guns. On the other hand, if it were possible to determine all of the independent variables, you could decide that you are more likely to suffer an attack at home than you are out and about. The safest approach here is to have firearms strategically located around the house, with appropriate measures in force to prevent misuse by children or incompetent adults.  If you carry concealed during the day, then why not continue to do so after you get home? 

Unlawful LEO Activity – What if you are assaulted by law enforcement acting outside the law.  I have many friends in law enforcement, who are just as upset about these incidents as we are.  If you think this is uncommon, then check out these web sites: here, and here.  Note also a disturbing recent report that certain jurisdictions hard-pressed in the current economic environment might use drug sniffing dogs and the right to property forfeiture to increase public revenues.  I am not a lawyer, but according to my research, there is a common law right to use force (but not lethal force) to physically resist improper police actions.  As noted at The Volokh Conspiracy, a recent Michigan case reaffirmed that right, while earlier Indiana rulings first negated then reinstated that right.  If you are the victim of such an incident, but are not in mortal danger, then it may be best to ensure there are lots of witnesses and lawyer-up later on.  If your life is in danger, then in my own mind a deadly assault under color of authority is the same as any other assault or home invasion.

Abduction – Imagine you have been abducted, beaten, sexually abused, and awaken to find yourself bound and gagged in the trunk of a moving car.  This is as bad as it gets.  There are those out there that would advocate continued cooperation, but I would argue that you are probably only alive because it is more convenient to kill you somewhere else.  I would also argue that cooperation is not consistent with pay-back.  If you are tied up, get loose, and root around in the trunk until you find a weapon – something like a tire iron.  Even if there is nothing that serves as a weapon, as soon as that trunk pops open your job is to kill your attacker(s) with whatever you have available.  What have you go to lose?

Active Shooter – The recent Aurora, Colorado, active shooter case produced an amazing storm of blog activity.  Some people pointed out that a single armed citizen sitting in the theater could have saved the day, and others dismissed that idea, ignoring the fact that something along those lines had really happened in 2007, where an armed citizen killed a shooter in a Colorado Springs church before he could get revved up.  Apparently the theater is a gun-free zone, so if you armed yourself and went to the movies, and someone saw your pistol, you would have to leave and apologize, or explain to the local police that you didn’t see the sign.  Even if you are only armed with a knife and/or a walking stick, if you are close enough you are just as dangerous as the shooter is, and the closer you are the less you have to lose since he will probably shoot you anyway.  The active-shooter threat has evolved – they always seem to select gun-free zones to attack. 

Military Attack – I can’t ignore this one.  Let’s say you have joined the Army, gone through your training, and have been assigned to a unit being deployed to Pick-a-Stan, and that you are not a combat veteran.  First of all, you should hunt down the individuals within the unit, particularly senior NCOs, who have been there and know what they are doing – stay close to them and learn everything you can.  Also, augment your EDC gear in meaningful ways, and ensure your issue weapons are not flawed.  Get tight with your fire team and talk about what is going to happen, and what has been happening, every day.  If you have incompetent leadership that is intent on getting you killed, discuss it with your team and figure out what to do.   In combat it is inevitable that people will be killed, but who gets killed is a function of training and circumstance; take your training seriously and become the most competent fighter you can be.  Don’t become a victim of circumstance.  Stay in shape, stay sober, stay alert, stay alive.

The Point – As you can see from the truncated threat analyses above, I can’t think of a single strategic/survival situation where you wouldn’t be better off carrying, and using, the most powerful weapon that you can use effectively and are legally entitled to carry.  Maybe you could avoid bloodshed by giving a mugger your wallet, but if that is the course you select, why not do so while retreating slowly gun in hand?  The grizzly in front of you might just be startled, and maybe you can act submissive and creep away, but why not do that while holding your 454 Casull at the ready?  It may be more comfortable on the couch if you take your Kimber out of your waistband and put it upstairs unloaded, but why not just loosen your belt a little and leave it on until you go to bed?

If you have made the decision that arming yourself is a good idea, then let’s jump right to firearms, because firearms are the most effective personal defense tool you can have.  Volumes have been written on the best self-defense weapon, and you can devote the rest of your life to research in that area, so just let me say this about “which” firearm:

The best firearm for defending yourself is the most powerful weapon you can legally possess and use well, and which is in your hand at the time that you need it. 

There are several subordinate points to that main rule, including:

  • A long gun is better if you can get it, but for concealed carry you are stuck with pistols;
  • A large caliber is better than a smaller, if you can competently wield and accurately shoot it (if your carry gun is so heavy that you constantly elect not to carry it, even around the house, or if the recoil is so abusive that you are afraid of it, then it is the wrong weapon); and,
  • You must regularly train in the use of your weapons (range time is not the only way to effectively train, dry firing drills are very effective).

Empty Hands
For reasons discussed elsewhere, I have good reasons for having acquired certain skills. I trained in the martial arts from an early age.  I was in lots of fights, and I won more than I lost.  Despite that, maybe because of it, I never willingly put myself into a situation where I am only armed with natural weapons.  I also no longer allow myself to be lured into a social encounter. The reasons for this are numerous, but the most important ones are:

  • It is stupid – as the old expression goes, if you roll around in the mud with pigs you will never come out smelling like a rose, even if you “win;”
  • It doesn’t usually remain a friendly bout for long – often friends will pitch in on either side or someone produces a weapon;
  • If you are well trained and fit, and you win, and the other person gets hurt, you are screwed, whether he started it or not; and,
  • If you are a CCW holder, and things get out of hand, you will lose your CCW, and never be able to get it back.

On the other hand, if it is a true survival situation, and you have no weapons, you will wish you had invested in the training.  You are also going to wish you had not had that last drink, that you had been keeping in shape generally, and that you or your significant other didn’t have such a big mouth.

My own preference is for martial arts that focus on combat rather than sporting aspects, and which also include weapons training integrated into the system.  It is only natural that I put in a plug for Kali-Escrima and Jeet Kune Do.  I have never studied Krav Maga, but I have worked out with guys that did study it and it seems very effective. 

The UFC/MMA thing contains much that is useful, and the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guys are correct that most one-on-one social street fights end up on the ground. Also, an intensive grappling workout is the toughest of all forms of conditioning I have been exposed to, so ground-fighting is a perfect ten for pure PT. Note however, UFC/MMA is still a sport with rules, and rolling around on the ground seeking your favorite submission hold while your opponent’s friends start kicking you, or he gets his blade out, is a tactical mistake.

I would suggest that the best – most efficient – martial art for you to study is the one taught in a location you can conveniently and frequently get to, is taught by people that will listen to and focus on your objectives and needs, and will keep you in great physical shape.  Also, there is nothing wrong with moving around from school to school and picking up what you can.  It was Sifu Bruce Lee who said “Absorb what is useful, reject what is not, and add what is specifically your own.”

In Between
There is a vast array of weaponry in between firearms and empty hands.  This includes knives, sticks, baseball bats, pepper spray, a belt with a heavy buckle, swords, spears, the staff, your car, broken bottle, almost any tool you can find in a workshop, and various improvised weapons such as a rolled-up Wall Street Journal. 

The walking stick along with good solid folding combat knife (or neck knife) is hard to beat.  It is also a combination that is compatible with the legal systems of most countries in the world.  A trained fighter so equipped is more dangerous at close range than a man armed with a pistol that is still holstered.  You can of course substitute an umbrella for the cane, or a rolled up newspaper. 

The cane-knife combination can make use of a number of weapons systems training regimes – the training I am most familiar with is the espada y daga components of Kali-Escrima.  However, if you happen to have trained in Kendo, then you will find that a relatively heavy cane is a lot like a samurai sword.  A knife alone is of course very deadly, even more deadly if the one using the knife is well trained, fit and conditioned to an ugly combat situation.  Many martial arts involve training with the knife, and some are almost solely devoted to it. 

The problem with most of these weapons is the same as with martial arts themselves, they are most useful in younger, bigger, fitter and well trained individuals.  The advantage of firearms is that smaller, older, weaker people can effectively use them.  Non-firearms weapons that have the same advantage, plus having the advantage of being (usually) non-lethal, include both pepper-spray (such as the one from Kimber, for example) and conductive energy weapons (such as Taser).  Both require some training to be most effective, which can be obtained locally throughout the USA.  They may not be legal, however, in all jurisdictions, so check it out if you are getting on a plane.

Beyond Firearms
Day-to-day self defense considerations rarely result in deciding upon such weapons systems as squad automatic weapons, mines, mortars, grenades, heavy machine guns, RPGs, MANPADS, or even armored vehicles.  This is the sort of thing that you would typically include in your planning for after the SHTF.  If your planning scenario includes this type of weapons system, then you need to invest heavily in legal advice and the requisite permits, and you will need a weapons budget much bigger than I have.  I wish you luck and I would really love to see what you come up with.

Children and Weapons
First of all, it goes without saying that you keep weapons safely locked away from children that are not properly trained in handling them.  If your children have been trained and indoctrinated, then I consider it your choice as to how secure the weapons need to be.  By the time my children were in their early teens they could field strip every weapon in the house, and I didn’t worry about something being left lying around unless a stranger was in the house.  When another child was in the house the weapons went into safe storage.  In this day and age, the way I did things might be illegal in some jurisdictions, so be sure and check if a relatively lenient policy would otherwise by your decision.

From a parents’ point of view, I regard weapons as being nearly the same as sex.  If they haven’t shown an interest, then don’t bring it up – unless they are at an age that you should worry that they haven’t shown an interest.  Actually, guns and/or hunting might be a more common kitchen table topic than sex in most homes, so the subject might be more likely to come up than sex in some families. 

In some homes, the kitchen table discussion might be more likely to include sex-change surgery for children than the best handgun to carry.  If that does describe your family, then I still advocate an early non-judgmental discussion of firearms if and when your child brings up the subject, to be followed by actual exposure to basic firearms training if a real interest is expressed.  This is not an area where enforced ignorance is good, any more than it is in the matter of sex.

With regard to bearing arms, I believe the earlier the better, consistent with the law.  A child can accompany an adult in the field and carry his own firearm as soon as he or she is able to complete a hunter’s safety course.  I think this may be the best way to ease children into the art of responsibly bearing weapons.  The concealed carry laws of all of the states I am familiar with confine that right to an adult (amongst other conditions), so even the most responsible child will not be able to carry a concealed firearm.

It is never too early to get your kids involved in martial arts, and that is an excellent way to begin instilling the philosophy of self reliance and personal responsibility into your child.  Again, as discussed above, if that martial arts training is more realistic, then it is better, and if it includes exposure to various weapons, then that is wonderful.   Since children are generally discouraged from carrying any sort of weapons, a good parent who refuses to wimp out on this subject will make sure that his or her children are aware of what can be accomplished with improvised weapons. 

I grew up in a different world than the one we are stuck in right now, and I had a knife on me all the time, even at school, from a very early age.   I still have one of them around here – a Barlow with a Bowie blade and a sheep foot blade of fairly soft steel that was easy to sharpen.  I think the first thing I cut with my first pocket knife was my thumb – that was how everyone in my day and age learned about sharp knives.  My kids had knives at an early age, but I think that they got in trouble for it whenever they got caught with them at school.  With today’s zero-tolerance laws I have no doubt but that it is probably a felony to let your kid walk around with one in public now.  Please check the laws of your state, county and city, the rules of your homeowner’s association and the policies of your schools before letting your children carry a knife.  

It is a dangerous world, and you can’t be with your children all of the time.  I gained some comfort that my own children had some training, and could react productively to a survival situation.  If you decide to not train your children at all, or if you tell them to trust in the authorities, such as their teachers or administrators, religious leaders, or local law enforcement, then in my opinion you are simply teaching your children to become victims.  If I can’t be there, then I would prefer that my children or grandchildren be dangerous in their own right, rather than have them depend on someone who might let them down. 

Legal Issues Relating to Weapons and Self-Defense
The possession and use of weapons, and the application of deadly force, is an important area of the law, and one that is constantly changing in various jurisdictions.  You can be sure that if you are involved in a self-defense situation, especially one involving a firearm, once you have survived the physical threat you will then have to deal with the legal aftermath, both criminal and civil.  Check with your local police or sheriff’s department for guidance, consult the hundreds of web sites devoted to weapons and the law.  Better yet, go visit a local attorney that advertises a specialty in firearms law and invest in an hour of his time. 

My bias is pretty evident by now.  I believe that you should always be as heavily armed as you are legally entitled to be, bearing weapons you are trained in and can use effectively.  If you are not legally entitled to carry a firearm to a certain location, then don’t go there.  If you have to go there, then arm yourself in some legal manner, such as walking stick and pocket knife.  Work out with those weapons so that you can actually apply them in practical situations. 

There are dangerous people out there who won’t worry about legality.  They will be waiting around for someone that looks vulnerable.  Make sure you are not what they are looking for.  Better yet, be more dangerous than they are.

The Author
Despite the state’s appalling politics, the author lives peacefully in California.  He is engaged in the business of financing energy and technology firms, and is the acting CEO of a private military contracting firm.  He is also devoted to the personal pursuits of rock climbing, martial arts, and hunting.  Prentice is also the author of Feral, a novel with significant Libertarian overtones, and the short story Purgatory.