Saturday, July 19, 2008

Violence: Some Very Ugly Truths

I hadn't planned to comment on this story, but given further developments, comments now seem necessary. This one has been burning up the local blogosphere and radio talk shows for the past six days, and in the past 48 hours has shown up on Power Line, Vox Popoli, the Twin Cities Carry forum, MNGunTalk, and Powerline again, among other places. I expect it's on Free Republic but haven't looked. I'm only surprised it hasn't become a flashing-light headline on Drudge.

The simple facts are these: on July 4, a family went to Valleyfair, a local amusement park, to celebrate the 4th and watch the fireworks. Afterwards, in the parking lot, a young man allegedly sexually groped the family's 12-year-old daughter, which led to an altercation, which led to the father of the family being beaten and left unconscious, with a fractured skull and possible intra-cranial bleeding. The father remains in the hospital, with no further word on his condition. Seven young men, the youngest being 14 years old and the rest being between the ages of 18 and 20-something, have been arrested, charged with felony assault, and released on bail, while an eighth reportedly is still being sought.

What brings me to comment is not the vicious nature of the crime, nor the typical Minnesota law enforcement practice of catch-and-release, nor even the usual insipid Star Tribune editorial blaming these young men's animalistic behavior on the usual litany of "root causes," but rather the vast outpouring since of all the overheated opinions from all the mall ninjas, carry-permit holders, would-be martial artists, and just flat-out racists eager to tell the world how things would have gone down differently if they had been there. Sorry, folks, but it's time to throw a few buckets of cold water on all your Charles Bronson-inspired fantasies.

Let me preface this by saying: I've been in real fights — not many, because I'm a fast learner. I've witnessed real fights. I have a carry permit and have shot competitively for years (IPSC/USPSA). I've hunted game big and small, I'm related by marriage to six current-duty or retired law-enforcement officers, and my father was something worse than a cop; he was a teacher and basketball coach in a ghetto school district. So what I have to say is based not on theory, but on observation, either first- or second-hand.

1. Real Fights Happen Fast. The time that elapses between the initial escalation of shouting and shoving, to condition TSHTF, to it being all over with somebody bleeding on the ground, is usually measured in seconds, not minutes. The advantage the bad guys have is that the typical Good Samaritan bystander's stream of consciousness is something like, "What's happening? Is what I think is happening really happening? I need a better look! My God, it really is happening! I can't believe it! What, are we all going to just stand here and let it happen?" [Look around at other bystanders.] "Are you going to do something? How about you? Well, we should do something, don't you think? What do you think we should do? Okay, let's do it!"

And by that time, the fight is over, one guy is on the ground, and the guy who put him there has vanished, unless...

2. Real Fights End Under One Condition Only: when the loser is unwilling or unable to continue fighting and the winner is satisfied that he's beaten the loser enough. Nothing else short of massive overwhelming physical or psychological force exerted by a third party will stop the fight before the winner decides he's dished out enough. And that's where you come in, right, Mr. Mall Ninja? Wrong — but before we address that, let's make a few other points clear.

3. Real Fights Are Not Boxing Matches. There is no such thing as a fair fight between two men who are equally ready, able, and willing to fight. Rather, most fights I've seen develop like this:

Guy 'A': [rhetorical assertion]

Guy 'B': [colorful rebuttal]

Guy 'A': [restatement of initial thesis and clarification]

Guy 'B': [expanded rebuttal with introduction of new supporting evidence]

Guy 'A': [summation]

Guy 'B': [refutation]

Guy 'A': @#($*&@#$&!!!!

Guy 'B's girlfriend: "Come on honey, it's not worth fighting over. Let's go." [Grabs Guy 'B's right arm.]

Guy 'A': [sees momentary unfair advantage and punches 'B' in the face, breaking 'B's jaw and three teeth. 'B' collapses like a stunned steer in a slaughterhouse.]

Alternately, and more dangerous than being sandbagged by his wife or girlfriend, 'B' may have a moment of idiotic nobility and decide to turn his back and walk away with his hands in his pockets, in which case 'A' most likely jumps on his back and punches him hard in the back of the head.

I have never seen a fight between two men who were equally ready to fight. One participant always thought they were still in the "shouting at each other" stage while the other had already progressed to the "I'm gonna beat the living $#!+ out of you" stage. The guy who lands the first solid sucker punch usually wins.

4. Size matters. My apologies to several very sincere ladies I know who are very serious about their martial arts training, but it doesn't matter how many Joss Whedon movies you've seen. A 300-pound thug beats a 100-pound pixie every time, no matter how good your chosen martial arts skills are, unless the thug was not all that serious about beating you up in the first place.

5. If you take a hard hit in the top, sides, or back of the head, you will go down. It's a combination of shock and reflex. Most likely you will also try to curl up in a ball and protect your head. If your opponent is not satisfied with this state of affairs, this defensive posture in turn only makes you easier to kick and stomp.

If you take a hard hit in the nose/mouth area, you may remain standing, but you won't be happy. You have a lot of very sensitive nerve endings in that area and broken noses tend to bleed profusely.

A bottle broken over the head does not shatter with a comedic crash and knock the target momentarily silly. Beer bottles shatter into razor-sharp shards that cut the crap out of the victim's head, and not infrequently, the hand of the wielder as well. Scalp wounds bleed profusely. A wine bottle is harder than a human skull and is a deadly weapon. A rock in the fist is a deadly weapon. Steel-toed boots are deadly weapons, if someone is down on the ground and you're kicking his head.

After taking a hard hit in the cranial area, the instinct to curl up and protect your head is extraordinarily strong and can only be overcome through extensive conditioning. Military forces, police forces, martial arts schools, and prison phys ed programs accordingly spend extraordinary amounts of time conditioning men to take a hit and respond by unthinking reflex and attack with overwhelming violence. If you have not had that conditioning, it is more than likely your survival instincts will take over, and you will fall down and curl up into fetal position.

6. Alcohol is powerful and dangerous stuff. Alcohol reduces inhibitions, impairs judgment, heightens emotional responses, reduces effective intelligence, deadens pain, slows the reflexes, and loosens the tongue — all of which can turn a situation from unpleasant to dangerous in a heartbeat. I've seen guys get into a world of hurt simply by shooting off their mouths about the wrong quarterback in the wrong sports bar after a few beers. Worse, I've seen guys get into a world of double-hurt because their wife or girlfriend had a few drinkies too many and had no clue how loud, opinionated, stupid, sluttishly flirtatious, or offensive she was getting.

I have seen a drunk swing, miss, hit a concrete wall and break several bones in his hand, and then keep punching, because he was too drunk to realize how badly he was hurt and how much pain he should be feeling. Conversely, I've seen a drunk collapse in blubbering hysteria and demand to be taken to the Emergency Hospital after accidentally biting his own tongue and spitting out a little blood.

And of course, in Minneapolis right now two cops are on paid administrative leave, because they got very drunk at a party, and when the neighbors complained about the noise, they thought the reasonable thing to do was to leave — and as they drove away, to stick their service sidearms out the sunroof of their car and empty the magazines into the air.

7. As powerful and dangerous as alcohol is, adrenalin is more powerful. Adrenalin is part of the "fight or flight" reflex; it temporarily gives you abnormal strength and quickened reactions. Unfortunately, it also gives you tunnel vision, twitchy reflexes, and a strange form of impaired hearing. I have seen shooters who could punch out the X-ring all day long in slow-fire turn into clods who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn when the pressure was on. I have experienced being so pumped on adrenalin that I couldn't hear the sound of my own gun going off. And I have read of many documented cases where some unlucky person was so jacked up on adrenalin that he apparently could not see or hear the police officers who were shouting, "DROP THE GUN OR WE'LL SHOOT!"

8. Cops are not superheroes. They are neither omniscient nor telepathic. Most of them are honest and mean well, but when all is said and done they are union-wage civil servants, and at the end of the day they are far less interested in winning medals for heroism than in going home to their families in one piece. There's even a bit of bumper-sticker philosophy I've seen cops use that sums up the idea: 1* (It's pronounced, "one ass to risk.")

What this means to you, Mr. Concealed Carry Vigilante, is that any cop responding to the scene will react first and foremost to the most obvious and immediate threat to his safety, which is the guy with the gun. And the cop will be running in full adrenalin response mode, too, so you can shout "I'M THE GOOD GUY!" and wave your carry permit all you want, and he won't hear you or see it. He will just see GUN — and if it looks like it's coming anywhere close to being pointed in him, he will drop the hammer first and answer questions at the coroner's inquest.

There was an ugly incident of this nature two or three years back in St. Paul. A certain Mr. Innocent got jumped in the street by a Mr. Perp, who had a gun. It turned into a wrestling match, and Mr. Innocent managed to get the gun away from Mr. Perp and knock him flat. Whereupon the cops arrived on the scene, and seeing a man with a gun standing over another man who was laying in the street, they proceeded to shoot Mr. Innocent quite immediately and thoroughly dead. At the coroner's inquest, the official verdict was that it was a shame Mr. Innocent was so stupid as to pick up Mr. Perp's gun. Too bad, so sad, end of story. Cops protect their own, first and always. What else did you expect?

9. Bad guys are bad. This does not mean they are stupid, cowardly, or suicidal. Again, I don't care how many movies you've seen in which the bad guys politely queue up to get their butts kicked by the Lone Hero. If you are going up against a group of bad men, they will not wait for their chance to take you on one-on-one, they will not step back in awe as you take on their biggest guy and run away in terror if you beat him, and they almost certainly will not hold still and wait for you to get a good sight picture if you draw your Royal Blue Smith & Wesson Custom Shop Model 29 Classic .44 Magnum loaded with Federal 240-grain Hydra-Shok hollow points from your hand-tooled customized super-duper Galcomatic official Clint Eastwood™ Signature Model concealed carry holster. More likely, if you draw a gun, they will scatter into the crowd of innocent bystanders and spray shots back in your general direction if they have guns — in the process quite likely hitting many of those innocent bystanders — while if you wade into them unarmed, trusting to your superior kung fu, you will most likely disappear under a mass of pounding elbows and stomping feet, to be squeegeed off the pavement sometime later the next day.

10. A trained and resolute group of men, moving together with common purpose, can readily intimidate and control a mob ten times their size. The military depends on this, as do police forces and prison guards. Gangs also depend on this principal, and it works. If they know what they intend to do, by the time anyone else figures out what they're up to and tries to organize spontaneously to stop it, they're already done and leaving the scene, and some poor s.o.b. is laying in a puddle of blood on the pavement.

As a corollary, an organized group of men temporarily shares the courage of its bravest member. A disorganized mob has the courage of its least-brave member, and is easily cowed, startled, and caused to run in panic. This is why, from Ancient Greece right up through the Civil War, there was so much emphasis on "holding the line." If one man broke and ran, they all might break and run, and then the battle would turn into a rout.

11. Fond as you may be of it, your handgun is not Mj√∂lnir, the Magic Hammer of Thor. It will not seek out only those deserving death, and unless you are extraordinarily good and lucky, it will not smite them to their doom instantly in a single stroke. The only thing that shuts down an adrenalin-charged fighting human instantly is a solid hit on the hindbrain or upper spinal cord. Police blotters and the annals of the Medal of Honor both are filled with stories of men who fought on and did terrible damage to their enemies after receiving fatal wounds, including grievous wounds to the forebrain. For that matter, police blotters are also filled with stories of 300-pound thugs who have been shot with handguns at point-blank range and come out of it none the worse for wear — because the bullet lodged in their adipose tissue, and never penetrated far enough to reach anything vital.

As for heart shots; they're overrated. I've watched a deer run a hundred yards after taking a high-powered rifle bullet right through the upper two chambers of the heart, collapsing only when his blood pressure had dropped so far that he finally lost consciousness. For that matter I've had the experience of being quite conscious, alert, and aware while watching my own heart rate flatline on the bedside cardiac monitor, which is not an experience I'd wish on anybody. You can stay conscious for quite some time without a working heart, and if so motivated do some very serious damage during that time.

12. Finally, and it really peeves me to have to say this, we don't know the race of the victim. We know the race of the perpetrators; they're all black, look like gangstas, and several of them already have lengthy adult criminal records. But in the worst of the mall ninja commentaries on this case — the posts that seemingly come from fellows upset that the dry cleaners couldn't get the soot stains from the last cross-burning out of their hoods — it's plainly assumed the victim and his family are white, and that this is a black-on-white gang crime.

That assumption can't be supported. Valleyfair draws customers from all over the metro area. The police have not released the names of the victim or his family, for fear of witness intimidation. (Good, hope that works, 'cause right now there's another Minneapolis cop out on paid administrative leave because he got caught selling the names and addresses of police informants and confidential witnesses to a gang member for a benjamin a head.) But based on the speech markers in the few quotes from the victim's wife that have been printed in the paper, the victim and his family may very well be black, too. Does that change how you perceive the story?

Or, here's another alternative. I've already heard a gentleman of color on one of the local radio stations explain that the way it's being told in his neighborhood is that there never was any sexual assault on the 12-year-old daughter in the first place. Rather, the victim and his family are white, true enough, but it was when mean old racist white daddy caught his little white blond-haired blue-eyed darling making out in the parking lot with the 14-year-old black boy that he started beating up the black kid, and it was only then that the older black men jumped in to defend their little brother.

Personally, this last story sounds like a total crock of rancid dingo's kidneys to me and absolutely pegs my BS meter, but the point is, we weren't there. We don't know what really happened. So we all of this posturing and chest-pounding about what would have happened if we were there is just so much jacking-off.



This story doesn't have a clean ending. True crime stories rarely do. But now that I've laid out some ugly truths, let's think this through. You are with your wife and children, in the poorly lit parking lot of a popular amusement park, slightly after midnight. You have your cell phone in your pocket; you also have your favorite weapon of choice concealed on your person, and despite its being the 4th of July, you've been a good boy and haven't had a single alcoholic beverage all day. There are lots of people you don't know around, walking to their cars; when suddenly you hear a woman scream, and look to see a man you don't know falling to the ground, while being beaten and kicked by seven or eight thuggish-looking young black men. (It's hard to tell exactly how many are assaulting him because they're moving fast.) You can't see the man or his family well-enough to determine race: they might be white, they might be black, they might be Mexicans; heck, they might even be Muslims. Nobody else is doing anything except standing there gaping in horror. There isn't a single police officer or rentacop anywhere in sight. You don't know what happened thirty seconds before you arrived on the scene; at this exact moment, this is everything you know. Clearly, though, if you always wanted to be a Lone Hero, this is your big chance.

So, realistically, now: what do you do?