In 1970 George C. Scott starred in the movie Patton. It was a movie that came out in the middle of the Vietnam war when support was lowest for our troops and when we needed a hero. Patton was that hero. If you believe the movie, he won World War II single-handedly. Or almost.
Rarely does a movie open with the actor speaking directly to us as the character. But Patton did. And in one rather stirring part of the speech, Patton talks about dealing with the doubt of being able to kill the enemy. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, watch it here.
I bring it up because of the soft, mushy-headed things that people say when they meet or talk with people like me about guns. People like me, who believe in the right not only to keep arms (which does one very little good) but the right to bear them, know from past experience that if the time came and it was the other guy or me, I would be the one walking away.
These are things I have heard people say on the subject of firearms and personal protection:
- I can understand you wanting one, but I could never use one on another person…
- Guns are fine for other people, but I could never kill someone…
- Killing is wrong, I just couldn’t…
Okay, let’s be honest. These are good people. These are people who life has bestowed the kindest of honors and the unkindest of experiences. They have experienced a life free from violence or the threat of violence. They’ve never been slapped, kicked, punched, choked, or stabbed. They’ve never gone into a confrontation not knowing if they would come out. They’ve never felt the overpowering fatigue that follows a rush of pure adrenaline.
And thank God for it. These are the people I want to share a neighborhood street with. They’re the kind of people who bring you jars of jelly they canned. They’re the kinds of people who come and tell you when Junior has been playing in the street. They’re the kinds of people who, while you’re on vacation, watch your house and call the cops if they see anything out of place. They’re good people precisely because they do not know, and cannot fathom the possibility, that they possess the inherent strength to kill another human being if their life was on the line.
It is the unkindest of experiences a person can have, because the real world – that place that exists outside of the environment the Monkees described in Pleasant Valley Sunday – is not peaceful or kind in any respect. While there are good people out there in the real world, and more of them than bad people, there are also far more predators than anyone realizes. They’re the kind of predators that look for cute blonde girls in pony tails, not because they want to chat, but because the pony tail gives them a convenient way to control the head, and thus, to attack and abduct a fresh victim. They’re the kind of people who stop alongside the road when you’re stopped to change a flat, not to help you get going, but to see if you have anything worth stealing. Or perhaps, to steal your life. Not a day goes by in this country that someone doesn’t fall victim to a predator like this.
But the good people read about this, or that, and shake their heads, mutter some prayer for the victim’s benefit, and then promptly go back to studying their iPhone, unaware that in that particular Panera Bread (where the law abiding are likely disarmed) there is someone making a decision that they could be the next easy target. Without an understanding of the way the world is, you can’t have situational awareness.
The world is not a nice place for another reason. There are far too many spineless people out there who would see an abduction and look the other way. They would never get involved. They’ll say to themselves, and anyone they ask for absolution, things like “what could I have done?” And it will never occur to them that they could have stopped the entire event with a cell phone camera and a shout. They won’t do this though because they are far more afraid of the attacker than they are sure of a police response. Cowardice is commonplace; bravery is rare. Few are willing to risk their well being for yours. Which is why I believe my well being, and that of my family, is my responsibility. It’s up to me to protect me, and mine. And if I can do it without putting them in danger, I will help you. But my family will always come first.
My belief is that no one ever found themselves in a life-or-death situation and thought, “aw, heck, I’ll just let him kill me because I don’t have the stomach to kill him.” While there are a few monks and religious people who would take this stand, they are at the 9th Standard Deviation from the norm. They merit respect because of pure ideological purity.
But what of the person who has lived their life free from violence and finds themselves confronted with it? Do they have the ability to fight back, to avoid being kidnapped or killed? The answer is yes. And they also have the ability, if they choose to use it, to kill.
So here is what you do when you’re confronted with these people. You ask “who is the person you love most in the whole world?” The answer will be a husband, a wife, a child, a parent. Now you place a practice weapon in the hand of that person and you say “I have that person now, in front of me. I have a knife to their throat. I’m going to kill him/her in 10 seconds. The only way to stop me is to shoot me. Then you start counting backward from 9 and say things like “9 …this is the person you love most, 8 … They’re looking at you. 7 … Their eyes are pleading with you. 6 … How will you live without them in your life.5 … This will be all your fault. 4 … You could have saved them. 3…. You had the chance. 2… Are you a coward? …1….. BANG!”
My guess is you don’t get past 6. Almost everyone in that situation takes the shot at some point. And the reason is because they are good people. They value the lives of those they love more than they value the lives of predators who threaten them.
Some may say “this is pointless because it doesn’t mimic the real world.” And they’ll be right. No mad man counts to 10 before killing his prisoner when there is a gun on him. In most cases, he runs. But without the conviction to shoot, without the knowledge that you would in fact take that shot, having a gun is far worse than having nothing, because predators can sense weakness and doubt, and they will do what predators do in that situation.
That’s why the most important thing you can teach a person you buy a gun for is not how to shoot. The most important thing to teach them is to be willing, ready and able to pull the trigger under the stress of a fluid situation. They have to have the steely-eyed resolve necessary to do what no one wants to have to do.
Because in life or death contests, there is no prize for second place.
This blog post owes its genesis to: No Second Place Winner by Bill Jordan.