A man puts a gun to your head


Image courtesy of chanpipat.

I probably disagree with most of what Sam Harris believes (he’s antireligious a la Christopher Hitchens, while I’m a person of faith who can’t understand how it’s not obvious to everyone that God exists). However, a post on his blog fascinates me as a crime writer. He articulates a few quite sensible principles of self defense, which I paraphrase here, expanding his list of three to the four big principles he really sets out:

1. Avoid dangerous people and places. Even if you’re a Navy SEAL, don’t walk down a sketchy, dark alley at night. If a guy challenges your manhood in a bar, cede the moment to him to defuse a confrontation. Even if you can win the fight, you could be sent to prison for harming the other person.
2. Do not defend your property. Give the robber

Click “READ MORE” to see the rest of this post.your wallet or car. Leave the burglar inside your house and run away to call the police.
3. Refuse to let an assailant force you to move from one place to another. Someone who uses force or the threat of force to make you to relocate intends to kill or rape you. The place they force you to go will be worse for you than the place you are and much harder or impossible to escape from.
4. (If 1 and 2 fail) Respond immediately (with overwhelming force, if possible and necessary) with the objective of escaping. This requires you to overcome your natural tendency to comply with the attacker’s instructions under threat of violence or even to leave a family member in danger.

Harris greatly overestimates, I think, our risk of stranger violence. A huge preponderance of violent episodes occur between people who know each other well, such as romantic couples, drug dealers and their customers, etc. (And that’s why one of the main themes in my crime fiction is, “Crime is personal.”) So his first principle is more effective than he realizes at keeping someone safe from violence. It’s probably all you really need. However, it’s the scenario-spinning of the rest of the list that makes us love reading crime fiction: “How would I respond?”

My dad always instilled principle No. 3 in my brother and me growing up. I remember him saying, “If someone’s trying to force you into a car in a shopping center parking lot, you should yell, kick, scream, and do anything you can to get away. I would rather the attacker kill you in that parking lot than take you somewhere and rape you. And more likely, you’d attract so much attention from bystanders that the attacker would run away. If what he wants is to kidnap you, and you make that impossible, what good does it do him to kill you?” A warm, fuzzy Dad moment.

Of course, this is all a very post-9/11 mindset. When the hijackers tell everyone to stay calm and cooperate, it may be better to roll a food cart up the aisle and take your chances.

What’s your reaction to these principles? Have you ever been threatened/robbed/etc.? Tell us how you handled it.

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This article has 5 comments

  1. Brands 11/22/2011, 11:59 pm:

    Great! thanks for the share!

  2. Kimberly Israel 11/23/2011, 7:30 am:

    Have never had to go past principle 1, but pretty much agree, though I’ve mentally rehearsed the idea of politely asking a mugger if they could please only take the cash since my driver’s license, credit card, library card, etc. won’t be any use to them anyway and will be a pain to replace. Still hoping for a day when people can walk where they want without fear.

  3. Bryan 11/23/2011, 7:47 am:

    Kimberly, I read some further advice on another personal defense blog about handing over your wallet. That one suggested tossing the wallet onto the ground a few feet from you and the robber and then running the opposite direction. They have to crouch to get the wallet, and that gives you a chance to put some distance between yourself and them and their weapon, if they have one. Another favorite fact I often bring up in my novels is how difficult it is for someone to hit a target with a handgun when they are under stress. Some statistics show that if you can get 10 feet away, you have a better than even chance of them missing. And many shots that hit you would be non-fatal.

  4. T. Contemporain 12/04/2011, 12:18 pm:

    hi, that’s a nice post. i hope you will continue to do this :)

  5. ASD financial management 12/07/2011, 7:35 am:

    good post, added you to my RSS reader.

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