Guys, gals, I have to make a confession.
Sometimes I go out and I don’t bring my gun with me. Or my pepper spray. Or even a flashlight. Usually I have a small fixed blade knife clipped to my waistband, but that’s as much because they’re a little piece of my friends who make knives as anything else. And not only am I not a ghost in the machine writing posts every day, I don’t even feel bad about it. In fact, I feel guiltier that I’m inconsistent about bringing a med kit with me than my defensive tools.
Here’s the thing though: those tools aren’t what make me safer.
It’s not because I have excellent situational awareness. My friends will tell you how oblivious I can be sometimes.
It is, however, about having realistic risk assessment and mitigation strategies.
Risk assessment requires you to look at exactly where you’re going, how you’re getting there, who’s going to be there, what you’ll do while you’re there, and how you’re getting back home. You have to examine each element carefully, including trying to predict all of the ways things could change from what you expect. Then you have to decide the likelihood of anything going wrong in a way that you could need one of your defensive tools, and whether and how that tool would help you. For each of those scenarios, you’ll need to weigh the odds of a bad thing happening, the odds of a particular defensive tool being effective, and any of the downsides of having that tool with you in the first place. The upsides? They could be as high as getting to remain alive because you can fight against an attacker trying to kill you. The downsides? They could mean losing your job, being kicked out of a venue, or even just having to deal with the hassle of putting on real pants and a shirt that can conceal your gear. While it’s possible to build some kind of formula to mathematically figure it out, it’s ultimately your own personal calculus of when it is and isn’t worth carrying some or all of your defensive tools.
One of the sayings I’ve often heard in the self-defensive community is that “It’s not the odds, it’s the stakes” (which I attribute to John Hearne). The idea is that even though a bad thing may be very, very unlikely, it can be so bad that you need to remain prepared for it at all times. I agree, but I’d add “or be comfortable with the consequences of not being prepared.” I’ve talked before about living a life worth defending, and sometimes that means doing things where it might not make sense or be possible to be prepared as you’d like to be for a risk, even a low risk. But that thing you want to do might be so worth it to you that you’re okay with that. You’re okay with the consequences because that experience outweighs the possible harm, at the level of potential that harm may be. It’s part of the math.
You have to be extremely honest with yourself when you do that risk assessment. As we talked about yesterday, you have to see what is there, not what you expect to see. If you plan to leave your gun in the car, how likely is it to be stolen? Compared to how likely it really is that you’ll need it? Do you actually have the technical skills to get your gun out of its holster and effectively make the kind of shot that you might need in the environment you’re going to? Are you mentally willing to shoot another human being? Will the downsides of getting caught with that gun be more consequential to you and more likely than the upsides of having it with you if an unlikely event you imagine occurs? Only you can do the sort of analysis that this requires, and you must do it without a rosy view of you or your circumstances.
Similarly, if you spot a risky area but think you can make it less risky, you should consider whether that thing you’re thinking about is possible and how much it will help. Then you need to stick to that mitigation strategy. For instance, maybe you decide that the way to be safer is to avoid using a rideshare service from the airport to your hotel. Instead, you’ll either take the hotel shuttle or a licensed taxi. That way, you have more than an app assuring you that the driver isn’t a completely unknown entity and that you won’t be taken somewhere you don’t want to go. You know it’s not foolproof, but you feel that the odds are more in your favor. Now here’s the trick: you have to actually do what you said you were going to do. Maybe the shuttle won’t show up for another 45 minutes, and it turns out that cab fare will be double what you’d pay for rideshare. But you weighed and prepared for the risk of the shuttle or the taxi, not for rideshare. So don’t change your mind and use that app after all.
But regardless….that math is all up to you, remember that you don’t need to share your reasons with others and you don’t have to accept the judgment of others, no matter what you decide.