Taking Exception to Some Assertions Regarding Firearms and Self-Defense

Last Thursday two people, one an old friend of mine and another an author/blogger I’ve recently taken to reading, both posted the same link, with endorsements, to a response to a question on Quora about firearms and self-defense written by Jon Davis, a former Marine Corps weapons instructor. I read the response and found myself unwilling to make a similar endorsement despite my respect for the two gentlemen who provided the link. I wanted to write some about it last Thursday but was busy (at work) or sleepy (at home) and only now find myself getting to it.

Before proceeding, some disclosure: (copied from a prior firearms-related post)

  • I’m an owner of firearms, and am generally in favor of gun ownership.
  • I’m currently a member of the NRA. (My dad purchased a membership for me without asking. If he’d asked, I would’ve told him emphatically not to buy me in. Right now I’m letting my membership lapse. I should probably be more proactive in ditching that group.)

My main concern, and the background for my attempted refutation of Davis’ response, is for our easy deference to an authority figure whose realm of experience may not be as relevant to matters of civilian self-defense as initially thought. A quote from John Scalzi’s blog post about Davis’ Quora response is suggestive: “Keep the weapon instructor’s reservations in mind; he has experience on the matter.” My retort: “Does he?” I think Davis’ experience exists in a context which doesn’t map well to the daily lives of most people. Does military training and doctrine build one’s knowledge of self-defense and enhance one’s ability to employ a self-defense mindset and skillset in the civilian world? It may, but I’m not convinced that makes a military weapons instructor an authority where civilian self-defense is concerned. Having said that, I should note that I’m no authority myself. I merely want to offer opinions that will, in most instances, attempt to refute assertions being made by an expert to whom we might otherwise defer, and too easily.

A secondary concern, which will bear out during my point-by-point refutation, is in Davis’ presentation of his arguments. The text of Davis’ arguments and their associated imagery give an impression (at least to me) that he doesn’t possess a great deal of willingness to trust civilians with firearms. (A bias resulting from his military background?) Descriptions and images suggesting worst case stupidity are offered with more frequency than any sort of real advice on how to go about becoming knowledgeable about firearms, their proper handling, and self-defense. His post comes off as a deterrent. That some people should be deterred from getting to know firearms isn’t something I doubt, but his post does little to help people who may want to know more and are undecided concerning firearms for self-defense except suggest they should look elsewhere. (Ironically, his response to the question posted on Quora may not be a particularly bad response given the question that provoked the response is, to my mind, poorly framed. The question doesn’t elicit an answer that offers as much help as the person asking the question might hope for.)

Davis’ response, point 1) A gun will only be used about .00002% of the time that you own it.

This is the least contentious point Davis makes. For most gun owners, present or future, it’s entirely sensible to believe that any gun will spend most of its time in storage. Proper storage which keeps your gun(s) out of the hands of anyone who ought not have access to it is important. As for Davis’ representation of the likelihood you won’t be around to defend your abode when a burglar does show, that only continues to underscore proper storage. Nothing too controversial here, but next…

Davis’ response, point 2) Weapons are actually difficult to use.

(I think the text for this response should’ve been, “Weapons are actually difficult to maintain,” since point 2 is primarily about maintenance rather than use.)

The irony of this argument is that it runs counter to the very argument made by many gun control advocates, i.e., guns are easy to use. But more pertinent to what Davis actually types, the simple truth is guns, while potentially esoteric to someone with an utter absence of experience with them, are really not that hard to use with a minimum of exposure (which doesn’t mean you should immediately assume self-defense competence, merely that there is a starting point for becoming competent that doesn’t involve shooting a hole in your foot). Davis misrepresents the difficulty of dealing with firearms by displaying an image of an exploded parts diagram from a common model of shotgun, suggesting in the text that intimate knowledge of the gun’s every working piece is required in order to be competent to operate the weapon. Just as call centers and local technicians exist to handle problems with your computer, gunsmiths, shop owners and other assorted knowledgeable folk exist to support your ownership and use of a gun. I don’t need to be able to inspect my firing pin for imperfections or disassemble a bolt. If I suspect my rifle is not operating reliably and don’t possess the knowledge and tools to diagnose and solve the problem, someone else does. Davis’ assertions in point 2 are tantamount to saying, “If you can’t debug software or diagnose electronic failures on your PC’s motherboard, you shouldn’t be using a computer.” How many of us would disappear from the Internet if that were the case?

Davis’ response, point 3) Guns don’t shoot themselves.

If this is the case, why do so many gun control advocates fail to acknowledge the truth of the statement, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”?

But that’s an aside. Once again, Davis asserts the difficulty of operating a firearm, this time in the context of use (as opposed to the maintenance argument above). In the midst of suggesting that lots of professional training is a requirement for competent use of a gun, he sprinkles contempt for the training one might receive from “cousin Billy Bob”. No one can possibly be self-taught or receive useful training from a (presumably civilian) relative or friend and become competent. Then there’s the tacit assumption that the reader of his response thinks turning a pistol on its side while firing is a beneficial means of enhancing accuracy. Or the photo of a teen girl handling a scoped rifle in about the poorest way imaginable short of looking down the barrel.

As I countered earlier, guns are not that difficult to use. Though turning a pistol on its side is inadvisable, this somehow doesn’t make drive-by shootings a failure in every instance (though one could wish for such). I agree that training is a good thing to acquire, and professional training if you can manage it, (especially for self-defense applications) but many people become competent operators of firearms precisely through the self-teaching and shared experience of friends and relatives that Davis derides.

The last question Davis asks in this section is, “If you have never fired before then how well do you think you are going to do when you really need it?” Davis’ advocacy for professional training ought to have made this question irrelevant, but he asks it anyway, contributing to the deterrent effect I suspect he’s trying to achieve. Of course if you’ve never fired a gun before you’re not going to be competent to use it in a defensive situation. Rather than coming to a full stop on this point, how about offering some suggestions on how and where a civilian might get a start with firearms training?

Davis’ response, point 4) Emergencies never happen in a way you can be prepared for.

I have endeavored, up to this point, to be polite in my refutations, but this statement and its follow-on text constitute what I can only call egregious stupidity coming from someone who claims to be a weapons instructor.

Point 4 is no more than a rewording of the old military axiom, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” To the extent that this is true, the essential result of a good training regimen is to become competent at self-defense with a firearm, enabling the person in a self-defense situation to respond as effectively as possible under unanticipated and shifting circumstances with a suite of methods that have been inculcated to the point of instinctive expression. That you might never need to defend yourself, or that your training might come to nought if the burglar shows up while you’re away from home, or that the event where you need to defend yourself does or doesn’t precisely match some imagined training scenario, is beside the point. What matters is your personal assessment of the possibility that you might be involved in an event calling for self-defense, and a consideration as to your potential methods of response. Some may be satisfied to live in a weapons-free home (aside from the golf clubs in the closet). Others may find pepper spray and an alarm system adequate. Still others may prefer to live in a gated community or secure apartment. But if someone expresses an interest in firearms as a method of defense, let’s consider some response other than, “Don’t do that. Guns are dangerous and hard to handle!”

Davis’ response, point 5) Guns are dangerous by design.

Much of this is already refuted to some extent by points I’ve made above, but most concerning to me is Davis’ last phrase in this section, “… when you should be on the phone to the police anyway.

This is another bit of deference to authority that troubles me. The only entity who can be truly responsible for my personal safety is me. If I think someone is invading my home and my options are A) Escape, B) Defend Myself, or C) Call 911, I’m not going to use option C first given that the act would reveal my presence to the invader. Option A, followed by option C strikes me as most advisable, followed by option B if option A is not possible. Yes, this only describes one potential scenario, but my underlying point is that whatever you may do, using your phone and waiting for the cops to provide you with security is more likely to end poorly than well, at least until transporters are invented and a 911 call teleports the police into your bedroom.

(Note also a bit more of that civilian contempt I’ve mentioned, vis a vis the Hello Kitty assault rifle image. Was that really necessary?)

Davis’ response, point 6—or the one with asterisks) You shouldn’t ever “carry” a weapon for personal self-defense.

This section contains what may be the most revolting portion of Davis’ response. He again offers an example of worst case stupidity in the form of an image from a website that sells firearms accessories, using it to suggest that carrying a firearm for personal defense in public is dangerous and, again, contemptible.

When I lived in the Portland area I once went to a supermarket wearing a fanny-pack facing forward. It contained my wallet and a few other sundries. During checkout the woman operating the cash register asked me if I was a cop? I replied no and asked why she thought I might be? She said that she’s seen off-duty cops wearing fanny-packs facing forward that contained, among other things, a pistol.

I’m going to guess that Davis doesn’t object to an off-duty cop carrying a pistol in a fanny-pack, even though such a behavior is, if Davis is to be believed, approximately as dangerous as a civilian carrying a gun in a purse.

For my part, I don’t care for the idea of carrying a gun in such a contrivance and wouldn’t choose to do so. Proper weapon retention, like a holster, strikes me as a better way of carrying a pistol.

But again, this cuts to Davis’ contempt for civilian carry for self-defense purposes. Whether it’s his image of a woman toting an impractically large pistol in front of a purse that Cheaper Than Dirt would like you to buy, or a fantasy scenario about a car thief playing an Aerosmith song on your stolen car’s radio, Davis clearly has no notion of concealed carry of firearms by civilians as anything other than a scary and dangerous activity to be discouraged.

Competent concealed carry doesn’t alarm anyone because it’s discreet. Competent concealed carry doesn’t endanger anyone because the firearm is properly prepared and retained. (If no event occurs requiring self-defense or defense of others, the firearm simply isn’t presented.) Competent concealed carry derives from civilian training that I suspect Davis knows approximately nothing about. Competent concealed carry enables self-reliance by placing responsibility for personal safety on the only one who can express that responsibility at a moment’s notice: the individual.

This doesn’t mean carrying a firearm for personal defense in public is for everyone. But for those responsible individuals who seek to do it and do it well, let’s not just rain contempt on them out of hand.

Regarding Davis’ Final Note

He makes a good point in that yes, if you present your weapon and fire it, there’s a decent likelihood you’ll kill someone. Davis quite properly notes that notions of shooting to wound by aiming for extremities isn’t realistic (though it’s very much in the realm of TV and movie notions of gunplay). Questions concerning your personal willingness to employ deadly force are entirely valid to ask. Whether you choose firearms as a self-defense method or reject them, reflection on matters of life and death and the morality of being able to deal out the latter are not merely well worth considering, but I believe necessary to anyone of conscience.

What Davis Says You Should Do?

And as odd as it may seem, having gotten to this point, I don’t find much to disagree with here. If the earlier parts of his response on Quora had been as free of misrepresentations and contempt for civilian owners of firearms as his last few paragraphs, I might not have felt compelled to write this post.

But as is said many times in the movie Clue, “It’s a bit late for that.”



3 thoughts on “Taking Exception to Some Assertions Regarding Firearms and Self-Defense

  1. Item #3:
    The sideways hold of the pistol, was per request (early to mid-1990s) of the LAPD to Hollywood film makers due to officers shot by people (mostly teens) who stated after arrest that they “learned” to shoot by watching movies.
    Ballistically, there is a cast of projectile from normal parabolic arc when the weapon is canted. A right handed shooter will place rounds (in general) when firing a canted weapon, at low/left or 7:00 position of target.
    It was done to give police officers a better chance of survival during a confrontation with firearms. I am one such survivor.

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