Are you prepared to take a life, and are you prepared to deal with the consequences? The answer is not as clear as you might think, but there are three very important concepts to understand that might make answering that question easier. First, in what situation would you take someone’s life? Second, how do you respond to someone not firing or freezing up during a firefight? Third, are you prepared to deal with the mental trauma associated with taking someone’s life? These are very real issues that need to be addressed, and this article attempts to show how to deal with and prepare for each one.
It is important that before a SHTF scenario begins, you, your family, or group decide and agree when to take someone’s life. This concept is often referred to as the rules of engagement (ROE). Everyone needs to be on the same page on what the ROE is and why it is that way. For example, disaster strikes, and you need to bug-out in your vehicle. The streets are packed with other people trying to get out, and finding a gas station that has gas is a near impossibility. Many of you should be thinking, “That’s okay; I have my own gas to fill up my vehicle.” That’s a great thing, but what happens when your vehicle runs low and needs to be refueled. If you think people are going to watch you drive by with smiles while they are stranded, then you need to be brought back to reality. People will ask, plea, demand, and potentially steal what you have. At what point do you draw your weapon and defend what is yours? Are you and all members of your family or group willing to take someone’s life over gas– the absence of which will leave you stranded just like everyone else. If you cannot definitively answer this, then you may want to work on your own rules of engagement. You don’t want a plan such as “Well, I would just pull out my gun and threaten them. After that, if they don’t leave me alone, I’ll shoot them.” The problem with this is that desperate people don’t always heed warnings, and this is America. You can bet that you aren’t the only one with a gun. The last thing you want to do is start a firefight. Finally, if you do end up defending yourself or supplies by killing the offender, their family or others may see it differently. Remember, just because you have a gun, killing someone has consequences regardless of the justifications. People will always spin the story to make you look like the bad guy, and they don’t care about truth or facts. If you are not careful, you can end up fighting an entire mob of angry and desperate people. If and when you must use lethal force, make sure you have a plan– one that includes on what, in your mind, warrants the use of force in the first place and a plan on how to leave the area quickly. Responding to situations like the one described above effectively is extremely difficult and requires much training. Do not be the person who only knows how to use their weapon; be the person who knows when and how to use their weapon. Practicing these situations can help you potentially deal with them. Ask family and friends to role play with you, and have them be an agitated survivor. Introduce hidden weapons and more people as you gain practice. You will learn valuable techniques and experience that will help you deal with unruly people. It is imperative that after each situation you role play, go over what could have gone better or been done better, and learn from your mistakes. This simple training activity will save you a lot of trouble and possibly your life.
Now that you have role played your situations, what happens if someone doesn’t pull the trigger when they should? It is a fact that the action of deliberately taking another life, especially at close range, is difficult for most people. If you ever want to know why this is true, you should read Dave Grossman’s books On Killing  or On Combat . Even if you aren’t interested in the human psyche of killing, you need to be aware that you or a member of your group may not be able to pull the trigger when that crucial moment comes. You might think that there is no way you would hesitate, but for those of us who have been in those situations, more often than not, someone doesn’t do their job. This is why having battle-tested soldiers is such a force multiplier for the military, because the nerves experienced in the first few engagements are so overwhelming it makes doing a job very difficult. It is important to understand that you, or a member of your group, will freeze or make a bad decision during their first combat encounter, especially if no one in your group has been under fire before. While it’s frustrating and potentially deadly, knowing what to do when it happens is extremely important and lifesaving. The most typical reaction for someone to have if they experience direct fire, and they don’t seek cover and return fire, is to “freeze up”. When someone freezes, they enter a state of shock, bunker down behind something, and either do nothing or cry. The most important thing to do is to get that person to fire his/her weapon. Because of the state of shock, speaking or screaming usually doesn’t help. It takes firm physical contact, such as shaking, hitting, or kicking them, or throwing something at them to snap them back into reality. Once you have their attention, it’s extremely important you give them a clear and simple order, such as “fire your weapon” or “reload”, and that’s it. Berating, name calling, or screaming at them will only cause them to lock up more. The goal with giving them a simple task is to get their mind back into game, allowing the brain to realize the situation and remember the training. If they remain frozen and refuse to budge, leave them and finish the fight. It won’t do any good if you are taken out trying to get someone to return fire. Once the action is over and you return to a place of safety, how you treat and speak to the person who froze will play a major impact on whether or not they will become a functioning fighter capable of being trusted. While every instinct in your body will want to strangle, degrade, and scream at the one person who couldn’t fight, that’s exactly what not to do. This can be especially hard if someone was injured or killed because they weren’t able to cover their sector or preform a critical task, but you need to remind the person who froze or coward behind something the entire fight that they have worth and you need them to do their job. Remind them that this one instance doesn’t make them a coward; it makes them a human being. Then, all you need to do is treat that person with respect and dignity. Demand that everyone else in the group does as well, because nothing can cause a person to enter depression or worse, commit suicide, like alienation from peers. Treating someone this way, and not as a black sheep, is better because most likely they know they screwed up. They hate themselves too, and truthfully no one really knows how they are going to react to a situation like that until it happens.
What happens after your first contact– after you, your family, or a group member takes someone’s life for the first time? The experience of killing someone is very different for each person, but for most it is very traumatic. This is the reason no one should ask a veteran “have you ever killed anyone”. For most, it isn’t a good experience that warrants a casual conversation. However, being able to talk about these experiences is important to help start the healing process. Otherwise, if left to brew and internalize what happened, depression, paranoia, or manic behavior are very real possibilities. We’re talking here about a SHTF scenario, where there are no counselors, no psychiatrists, no chaplains, and no priests to talk to. There certainly isn’t going to be an abundant supply of antidepressant medication going around. You, or somebody in your group, needs to be that person to talk to. It is important that you talk about the event, not to glorify it or condemn it, but to understand that it isn’t something that defines you. People need to know and be reassured that they are more than just a killer; they still have value, and life goes on. Remember that in today’s society soldiers returning home from deployment and officers involved in shootings are mandated or strongly encouraged to attend group or individual counseling. In a societal collapse those things are nonexistent, and it is up to you to make an environment conducive to healing those mental wounds. The healing will take time, especially in a stressful situation such as when in a SHTF scenario, but as a leader of your family or group, you are responsible for everyone’s mental welfare as well as their physical well being.
Be aware of your situation, and always train for the unexpected and hard decisions. Know that killing someone isn’t easy, and people do not always have what it takes to do it. Know how to speak and treat people when they make mistakes, and know how to talk about traumatic events that are bound to happen. Know that depression and suicide will be rampant in a SHTF scenario, and it takes time and dedication to safe guard ourselves and our group members. Know that in the end, all we have is each other.