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Editor’s Note: The following article was originally published in Issue 13 of CONCEALMENT, and appears here in its entirety with permission. For more articles on guns, training, and gear, go to RECOILweb.com.
Imagine you’re eating out with your family. Your son, daughter, niece, nephew, or maybe grandchild is sitting in your lap, telling you an elaborate story the way that only a small child can. You’re fully engaged in their excited eyes and animated features— the way they tilt their head and stumble over words as they kick their foot against the leg of your chair has you both distracted and delighted. You’re enraptured with the little bundle of joy.
Then you hear it. A scream. A demand. You peel your eyes away from this lovely child, only to find yourself staring directly at a violent offender in the midst of an armed robbery.
What do you do?
According to 2014 Census Bureau data, around 60 percent of the population over the age of 15 has at least one biological child. So if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you don’t have to reach too far back into your memory to picture the scenario described above, to picture the face of a child you love silhouetted between you and a violent individual with a gun.
If you’re a parent or spend time around kids and you carry a gun, it’s very likely you’ve already considered how it could be used to save your child’s life, or the life of another child you love dearly.
But what if it happens?
What if your child were in the midst of a violent attack? What if you’re attacked and a child is between you and your attacker? What if your family is caught up in violence it wasn’t prepared for? Do you know what to do?
Citizens Defense Research was formed in 2015 and set out to answer these questions. We named our flagship course Contextual Handgun: The Armed Parent/Guardian (TAP/G) and spent a year researching, studying, testing, and crunching data. Not surprisingly, defending your loved ones with a gun is no small task. It’s a complicated and frightening prospect with many moving parts. While many things can be done well, this article will focus on a few important — but sometimes unintuitive — ways that armed parents and loved ones might fall short when defending children.
Above: Demonstrating techniques with a prop child in class — a lot easier than bringing your toddler onto the range. Once you’re in a home environment you can practice techniques with your own — preferably with a SIRT or Blue gun, lest you want to practice trauma care in real time.
In times of extreme stress or sudden violence, the brain triggers the body to produce a flood of hormones meant to prepare the body to fight or to flee. This state of hyperarousal can cause you to act impulsively and without clear direction. While in this state, it’s very difficult to think rationally, and actions taken may in retrospect seem unintelligent, counterproductive, or even negligent.
Parents have abandoned their own children in mass-casualty shootings, struck their own children while attempting to fight attackers, and more. When these stories are reported, it’s common to see visceral and outraged reactions, but the hard truth is that any one of us could potentially act in a similar fashion. While considering it rationally, we would never imagine it possible — but we can’t underestimate what we might do in a state of hyperarousal.
The good news is that you can lessen the ability of your subconscious to hijack your body. Proactively planning for the presence of your children in the event of a violent crime gives your brain a strategy to focus on should a similar event occur. This guideline can help switch your subconscious mind out of hyperarousal and back into rational thought more quickly.
Practicing controlling your body’s response to extreme stress through physical activity and stressful activities or sports can also help you better manage stress when it occurs.
Concerned parents will often pull their children to themselves like hens with baby chicks when they become aware of something alarming or suspicious. They tuck their little ones close and shepherd them away.
While this instinct is understandable, in a world of projectile weapons and chaotic violence, it may be counterproductive.
In a majority of force-on-force scenarios that we observed involving children who were drawn close to the caregiver, children got shot when guns were involved and bullets were exchanged. Similarly, many videos of fistfights between adults where children are present show that when children are kept close to a caregiver, they often end up being struck.
Exceptions to this rule included situations in which the caregiver was able to get the child out of the scenario before gunfire or blows were exchanged, or was able to end the confrontation before the situation escalated further.
Avoidance and de-escalation are always our best first defense against violence when children are present. Sometimes, however, violent encounters can happen so quickly that there’s no time to evacuate your loved one (we’ll discuss this more later). When violence is imminent, if given the choice between bringing your loved ones close to you or creating distance, go for distance.
Given how important distance can be, as my partner and I started forming our theories for defending children in sudden, inevitable, and violent encounters, we initially prioritized creating distance and getting the child to safety.
While this worked very well if there was enough time to see the attack progressing or when there was an opportunity to stall the attack in some way, the results were devastating when the attack was sudden and violent. If the parent took the time to get their child to safety after the violence had already started and before they fought back, both the parent and the child often ended up shot.
So we switched tactics and examined what would happen if we instead prioritized immediate, skilled, and appropriately violent counter-attacks in these sort of situations. In our simulations, the number of children and parents that suffered simulated gunshot wounds plummeted, even with parents holding children in their arms.
This means you may have to fight around your child. Thus, you must possess the gun-handling and shooting skills to perform to a demanding standard coupled with a clear understanding of the legal and moral implications. If you haven’t already, seek training that allows you to maximize your performance with the tools you’ve chosen to defend yourself — and then practice those skills on a regular basis. If you aren’t practicing, your skills may fail you in your most desperate time of need.
If, despite your best efforts, you’re unable to avoid violence, your priority must be to end the fight. Ending the fight will be the vehicle that ensures your own and your loved ones’ safety.
Above: Time spent in the classroom and on the range is a vitally important component of personal defense, and even moreso when you’re protecting a defenseless loved one in addition to yourself.
It would be tragically ironic if the tools we purchase to defend the lives of those we love might end up hurting them. You don’t have to look hard for accounts of children who have been injured or killed when adults improperly store or carelessly handle firearms.
Additionally, sometimes adults have learned certain habits, whether through formal training or on their own, that can put children, in particular, at risk of being killed or severely injured through poor muzzle control and minimal awareness of how to manage chaotic environments.
If you have children in your home (or even if you don’t), it’s advisable when buying a firearm that you also get a safe means of storing it. Get appropriate training that teaches you safe handling practices in the context of your lifestyle, and strictly abide by what you’ve learned.
There’s a video we show in every one of our TAP/G classes: a man is carrying a small child in his left arm while he walks down the street. Another, older child is holding his right hand. A woman, presumably his wife, is holding the older child’s other hand.
A man with a knife runs toward them and stabs the woman in the neck. Dad turns to confront the attacker, still holding the children. As he attempts to kick the knife-wielding man, the woman pulls on his arm. It causes him to trip over the older child and fall on his back.
The attacker runs off to stab other victims, and we’re left pondering what could have happened differently.
While I’d never tell a family that carrying children or holding hands isn’t safe, it’s wise to have conversations with your loved ones about what to do in the event that a violent encounter takes place.
Coordinating a strategy with your loved ones is a significant start toward improving your ability to effectively fight should the need arise.
Above: As a parent of a a baby or a toddler, consider the way you carry your firearm. Access to your pistol will be complicated when carrying your child or a diaper bag. Consider and practice alternate carry methods.
When family defense is discussed, it often defaults to traditional gender roles: the woman’s job is to whisk the children to safety; the man’s job is to stand and defend the family.
While this very well may be the best practice for your family, I challenge you to consider alternatives.
My husband and I are fairly evenly matched when it comes to our defensive skills. But while I sometimes struggle to carry just one of our children, my husband can collect all three of them in his arms and carry them with ease. He’s also the family breadwinner. He’s capable of getting the rest of our family to safety and can provide for our children long term if I don’t survive a violent encounter. That makes flipping traditional gender roles a smart choice for our family, and it might be for yours too.
Sitting down with your spouse and discussing all of these difficult decisions and consequences is not a pleasant conversation. For some, even talking about carrying a firearm or planning for violence isn’t easy. But getting through those conversations may reduce your hesitancy to act decisively in the moment, should you ever face violence when with your family.
Fortunately, extreme violence around children is still rare. When violence rears its ugly head and people are even minimally equipped to handle it, the good guy often still wins. In the unlikely event you face the worst, these are a few of the possible failure points in your family defense plan that you should consider. Planning for them puts you one step closer to being better prepared to defend the ones you love the most.