"Your awareness skills are more likely to protect you from harm than are your skills with a gun." This may seem like an odd thing for a gun instructor to tell people who are sitting in a defensive gun course. But this is the message that I always try to tell anyone that I am instructing. I believe that most people take an unsystematic approach to their personal security. When I say “unsystematic approach” I mean that we tend not to think very clearly or carefully about every aspect of our personal security, and instead we rely on a piecemeal approach. This must end. What follows is a philosophical explanation of a method that I believe can be used as the basis for thinking about our personal safety and security in an organized manner. Every aspect of providing for our security and that of our loved ones is interrelated and interdependent. Any individual component of this approach to security may by itself enhance one’s safety and security. However, only by combining all of the individual components into an organized system inside one’s mind will one achieve their maximum overall personal security.
Once we obtain a weapon, including a firearm, we ought not to think of that weapon as our primary means of defense. We should adopt the attitude that a weapon is our last means of defense, to be use only when all other options and defenses have failed to protect us. Nobody in their right mind will be eager to use a gun against another human being. A gun is capable of causing catastrophic damage or death. Unlike what is often seen on TV or in movies, shooting a person at close distance is a gruesome activity. Do not expect to see a person who has been shot in the shoulder smiling and joking as they are placed in the ambulance. That may be what the handsome hero does on TV, but in real life, there is little to smile about after you have been shot, or after you have shot another person.
If we accept that a gun is our last, not first, means of defense, then what really is our first means of defense? I have devised what I call the "Security Pyramid" to explain my theory of safety. The Security Pyramid is an inverted pyramid divided into three sections: 1) awareness and knowledge, 2) security precautions, and 3) a weapon.
The broad upper portion is composed of two components: awareness and knowledge. Each of these two components is dependent upon the other. Their relationship is symbiotic and together they form the real "primary weapon" of our defense and security. There is wisdom in the old military adage that "Your mind is your primary weapon." An active and creative mind, continually receiving and processing information, may indeed function as a formidable weapon. It is your mind's knowledge and awareness that form the broad upper portion of the Security Pyramid. In order to harm you, a threat must defeat this level of the Security Pyramid.
I use the term "awareness" to refer to two distinct types of awareness. First, it refers to literally being conscious of what is occurring in one’s immediate environment in real time. Obviously there are times when it is more appropriate to allow yourself to have your “head in the clouds.” And there are times when it is inappropriate. There is no need to be hyper-vigilant continuously throughout one’s day, but it behooves us to maintain at least a certain level of vigilance and awareness during every waking moment. In general, when not within the security of familiar walls, I recommend that one maintain at least the same level of awareness one has while driving a vehicle on a public road. We all know that activities such as daydreaming, using headphones for music or allowing other distractions while driving is a dangerous activity.
While driving we maintain a relaxed level of alertness, periodically checking speed, the vehicle mirrors, the distance from other vehicles, road hazards, traffic signs, the actions of pedestrians and of other drivers. At times we become aware of a potential or actual conditions or situations that threaten the completion of a safe trip and our awareness level rises as we focus in on something in particular. As drivers we recognize that we have a responsibility to maintain a certain level of awareness in order to maintain our safety. Unfortunately, once one steps outside of a vehicle, there is a tendency to allow that level of awareness to drop. If we have driven to a shopping mall, once we are in the parking lot and heading for the store on foot, our awareness of our surroundings becomes lower. We may not pay attention to the people surrounding us, their distance from us and their direction of travel. While driving, we automatically pay more attention when approaching a hill or curve that may have a hidden hazard on the other side. But in the parking lot we tend to be oblivious to whether a person could be hiding between parked cars, so we do not put extra distance between those blind spots, if we even think about them at all. Keeping a real time level of awareness of our surroundings, similar to that while driving a vehicle, is the first element of the Security Pyramid.
Now remember, I said there were two types of awareness that go into forming our Security Pyramid. The other type of awareness is our ability to look into the future and to be aware of things in our environment that do not represent an immediate threat to our safety, but that we recognize the potential to lessen our security and safety. Take a careful look around your place of residence. Do the hedges and bushes need trimming, or are they tall enough to easily conceal someone lurking in the dark outside our doors, windows or walkways? Does our outside lighting provide adequate lighting at night? Do our shades and curtains provide the level of privacy we desire? Are our locks adequate? Is the car locked, or does it provide easy access to the house via an unprotected garage door opener? Are we aware of these potential flaws in our security? Criminals certainly will be aware of all of these things. Criminals rarely are looking for a challenge, so in general they are alert to any possible weakness in your security. Therefore we should be equally aware of any weaknesses in our environment that may be exploited by an ill-intended person. So the second type of awareness in the Security Pyramid is simply to force ourselves to become conscious of vulnerabilities that hypothetically could be used to the advantage of someone intending to cause harm.
Both of these types of awareness are closely connected with our knowledge. Knowledge makes up the final component of the first layer of the Security Pyramid. In the Security Pyramid, the relevant knowledge is the knowledge of what constitutes a threat to our safety, plus the knowledge of what countermeasures can be taken to lessen or eliminate that threat. As an illustration using the analogy of driving a vehicle we know, for instance, that seeing children ahead kicking a ball in a yard heightens the danger that a child may suddenly dart into the street from between parked cars while chasing the ball or playing the game. Our knowledge of that hazard combined with our noticing it (awareness) results in taking countermeasures to decrease the chances of an unfortunate result. In the car, it may be as simple as reducing speed and creating greater distance between our car and the parked vehicles that could obstruct our view of a darting child. In terms of personal safety and security, the field of knowledge we seek is broad indeed. It may be simply knowledge that allows us to assess the effectiveness of our locks and doors, or knowledge of how providing personal information on websites can be obtained and exploited by bad people. Or, it may include knowledge of recent criminal activities in one’s neighborhood, community, or in a place that one is planning to visit. Obviously, it is impossible for any single individual to gain knowledge of every theoretical security vulnerability they could face. New vulnerabilities are discovered constantly. The important thing is to make it a point to arm oneself with as much of this knowledge as possible and to combine that knowledge with the two types of awareness that make up the broad portion of our personal Security Pyramid. Fortunately, while the list of security vulnerabilities is endless, there are a fairly small number of basic vulnerabilities that apply to anyone in any place. Many of them are obvious and involve use of common sense, and a few may be slightly less obvious until they are brought to your attention. These are good places to begin acquiring your Security Pyramid knowledge base. Future discussions will include more details in hopes of stimulating more thought and recognition and developing your ability to make and intelligent and informed assessment of your environment as it affects your security.
The middle portion of one’s Security Pyramid I call “security precautions.” Security precautions are the sum of everything that you do as a result of your combined awareness and knowledge. Simply being aware or knowledgeable of security vulnerabilities is of limited value if one does not actually do something as a consequence of that awareness and knowledge.
Some security precautions are provided to us by others. When we purchase a home or rent an apartment, there are locks on the doors and windows, a peephole may be installed on the front door, outside lighting is provided, a parking garage may have an electronic pass to enter. Likewise our vehicles have locks and alarm systems. Police patrol our streets. The city provides street lights. Our combined awareness and knowledge will prompt us to make an assessment of the effectiveness of all of these provided security precautions and to make a decision whether further enhancements ought to be made.
Other security precautions we must seek, choose and obtain for ourselves. Trimming bushes near the doors or windows where a burglar or rapist could hide is an example of a security precaution. Planting thorny bushes in those locations is another. Having a flashlight next to your bed, checking your locks, and charging your cellphone, having a dog, taking note of the locations of exits, avoiding dark areas and blind spots, putting distance between ourselves and unknown persons, taking a self-defense class or obtaining a weapon are all additional examples of security precautions. In every case, it is something done as a result of your awareness and knowledge. Again, all of the security awareness and knowledge one has is of limited value if one does not act and take security precautions based on the awareness and knowledge. Security precautions alone will not be as effective if not combined with or based on one’s security awareness and knowledge. The components that make up the Security Pyramid are not isolated, they are blended.
Finally we get to the third section of the Security Pyramid, the weapon. Obtaining and learning to use a weapon is part of the second section of the pyramid. It is a security precaution. Actual use of a weapon for defense is the third section of the pyramid. I would prefer if we imagine it to be the very bottom point of our inverted pyramid. It is on this point we are standing at the moment we bring a weapon into play. If we find ourselves at this point, it means that one way or another a threat has succeeded in penetrating figuratively, and to some degree literally through our Security Pyramid. Our awareness failed to allow us to avoid a threat, our security precautions were not sufficient to stop the threat. It does not necessarily mean that we made mistakes, or took inadequate precautions. Sometimes we are just not lucky and we are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whatever the explanation, this is why a weapon is not our primary or first means of defense, it is our final means of defense— when all else has failed to allow us to otherwise avoid, escape or stop a threat’s attack. One may choose to not have this tip of the pyramid available. Without a weapon as the tip, one does not have a Security Pyramid; at most one has a Security Trapezoid. Hopefully that is all that any of us will ever need.