The Rule of 3: Why I wrote Deadly Force
People ask me why I wrote a book about self-defense, a subject usually thought of as being about guns. While I confess to being pro 2nd Amendment, that is not what made me write the book. Rather it came from thinking about homeland security, and about the individual’s responsibility for his or her own protection.
Since 9/11, we have spent countless hours talking about what the federal government should do, what state governments should do, what local and tribal governments should do, and what the private sector should do to protect us from being attacked by terrorists. Newly minted homeland security experts tied to large, D.C. based defense contractors have driven much of the discussion. They have offered lots and lots of suggestions, most of which amount to little more than if the federal government just buys this program, or that product, or funds my research center, all will be well.
At the same time, during the past few years, the domestic terrorist threat has evolved from pre-approved and carefully coordinated large scale attacks by organized terrorist cells against pre-identified targets, like the one carried out on 9/11, to “inspired,” spontaneous, non-synchronized attacks by individuals against random targets of opportunity, like those that have occurred recently in San Bernardino, Dallas, St. Cloud, MN, and Columbus, OH.
While terrorist attacks are becoming more random and harder to spot, the feeding frenzy at the federal trough has shoved aside the idea that individuals might somehow play a role in their own safety. We are told that if we just beef up our police forces, build security systems to "connect the dots," share information, and report on each other, we’ll be safe. The individual’s responsibility to protect him- or herself has been reduced to nifty, but meaningless slogans; "be alert," or "if you see something, say something." To be sure, some government programs are making us safer, but others not so much, and we are paying dearly for all of them, in dollars and diminished liberty.
The problem of homeland security, in a nutshell, is how to play defense against a highly distributed threat, when there are too many targets, and too few resources to protect them. The enemy is an Islamist terrorist network, made up of individuals and organizations that are united by a common belief system, and a willingness to kill innocent people. Arrayed against it is our own system of federal, state, local, tribal, and private sector resources. Post 9/11 efforts to organize them have increased dramatically our capacity to defend ourselves, but the simple truth is that a target to resources gap remains, and it will always will be there, because we have too much to defend and too few resources for governments and the private sector to protect them.
Critical infrastructure is a case in point. Even if we were to assign every federal, state, and local law enforcement official, and every sailor, soldier, airman, and marine to the task, there are still too many bridges and tunnels, to many pipelines, waterworks, power grids, financial networks, and communications systems to guard, and they are only part of the list. Add in smaller, private sector critical infrastructures that affect one company or one facility at one location, and cyber threats, all of which drive economic activity, and one begins to sense just how big the problem really is.
The target to resources gap applies to individuals as well. Just being an American, or living in the U.S., now makes one a legitimate target for terrorists. You don’t have to be a police officer, or a member of the military, or work in the national defense or homeland security sectors. Everyone is fair game. There are about 325 million of us. How do we protect everyone?
Most people’s first reaction is the police, but a closer look reveals that while the thin blue line is an important part of the answer, it too has its limits. First, U.S. law enforcement, at all levels of government, is reactive, not proactive. They arrive after a crime has been committed, investigate it, and arrest the perpetrators. They don’t do personal security, and when they’re assigned to protect individuals, they can’t sustain it for very long, because it takes too much manpower. When faced with a prolonged, continuous threat, they’re forced to hide their charge in some sort of witness protection program. Such an approach won't work against a decentralized network of anonymous members. Who do you hide, where do you hide them, and from whom?
Also somewhat troubling but true, U.S. courts have ruled repeatedly that the police have no duty to protect individual citizens from deadly danger, unless there is a special relationship between them and the citizen being threatened. The police will always pay attention to a person in imminent deadly peril, but threats of future violence are a different matter, and protecting individuals against random danger is not part of their duties. Without the resources to defend the individual against every risk he or she might face, the police have to make decisions, based on priorities, about who gets what, and they aren't liable for making the wrong choices. In short, they don’t have to agree with your assessment of the threat, and if you call them, they don’t have to come.
Then there is the problem that if the police do decide to come, how long will it take them to get there. It's not a criticism. The average police response time for high priority 911 calls is about ten minutes. Some departments have reduced it to four minutes, which is remarkable if you think about it. Yet the commonly recognized rule of three, based on police statistics of gunfights, suggests how quickly deadly violence evolves: three shots, three yards, three seconds. That means that in a majority of cases, once an attack begins, even the best of police response times plays no role in how it ends.
None of this is reason for anyone to “gun up” and go around looking for terrorists to shoot. This is not a book about fighting terrorism. It does suggest that relying on the government and the private sector to protect individuals from a distributed threat network runs inevitably into the target to resources gap. Simply put, there are limits to what governments, at any level, can and should do, and what the private sector is willing to pay for to protect us from danger. We cannot be like the man who steps into traffic while texting on his cell phone, and then blames the government, or the taxicab company, for failing to keep him from getting hit.
Nifty slogans, such as "be alert" or "see something, say something" seem ill-advised because they ignore the reality of how today's threats evolve, how law enforcement responds to them, and how long it takes for help to arrive in dangerous situations. Again, that is not a condemnation of law enforcement. It is a recognition that an individual facing deadly danger will likely be on his or her own, for some period of time while others are assessing the threat and deciding how to respond. The federal government says that communities have to take care of themselves for seventy-two hours during times of great peril before it can help them. The same requirement to be responsible for one’s own safety exists with respect to individuals, except it is measured in minutes, and sometimes seconds. During that period of vulnerability, each one of us has to take care of him- or herself until help arrives.
The use of deadly force in self-defense is one way to do that. It has its own perils if not exercised properly, but it is a viable alternative for people who wish to assume some responsibility for their own individual safety. There are millions of Americans who fall into this category. A 2014 Gallup poll found that forty-two percent of American households have a gun, and that self-protection is the most common reason given for such ownership.
The possession of a firearm with intent to use it against another person, if necessary, and under what circumstances, is a serious and very personal decision. It is not for everyone. For some, it is clearly not a good choice, for some the risk may not be worth it, but for others it is a reasonable, lawful, and even prudent option. I wrote this book for all of them, so that each person who thinks about using a firearm for personal protection will better understand what self-defense is all about, and what happens when a claim of self-defense is made. Then I hope they will make the right decision for them.