Feared For My Life

competitive marksmanshipThis overused phrase, “ I feared for my life,” underscores many conversations regarding allowable use of a firearm. Even the law seems to support this oft uttered statement as valid reason to draw and fire. I, however, readily discard declaring, “I feared for my life” as basis for drawing and firing.

Let me take the phrase itself to a greater distance by questioning many emotions  associated with needing to use one’s firearm. We have fear, but then, in a life or death situation, we might also have, anxiety, confusion, hesitancy, terror, we might be pissed, peaved, miffed, tiffed, piqued, perturbed, annoyed, irritated. Just because I am FEELING something, does not indicate the need to draw and fire. In addition to staying away from the emotions clarifications game, one person may feel something entirely different than another person at the exact same event possibly negating your reason for drawing and firing. For example, you might feel fear, but I might only feel uneasy. In that critical shoot/ don’t shoot moment, are we really going to run down a quick therapy moment and discern What am I feeling/ Where does it come from/ Am I still harboring resentment from 1958?? We don’t have time to know or assess what we are feeling. In that precise moment of assessing shoot/ don’t shoot, we do not figure in our emotional standing. I would not want to be your partner if that is how you run it down.

I contend, in the heat of the moment, you better be running down, not your emotional status, but your Use of Force Continuum. Does your professionalism and calm, assertive presence deescalate the situation? No? Then, does your verbal command sequence work? No? Move onto to Soft Technique -pepper spray, for example-. Still not deescalating? Move onto Hard Technique- stick, take downs, etc. Not working? OK, we have established the need for Deadly Force. That’s it, that’s all.

What you feel is inconsequential and individual. What you DO and can articulate is what matters. In my circumstances, I don’t run. I make my verbal commands. I do not use pepper spray; the breezy desert evenings mean I have as much chance of hosing myself down as my assailant. I am not close enough for physical take downs. Further, I am disabled, I could not run or grapple anyway. Nothing I do or say stops the charging aggressive assailant. My only option in this life or death situation in protecting myself and my possessions is to shoot.

I’ll deal with my feelings later.

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Not Again

competitive marksmanshipAugust 23, 2017 I incurred another canine incident resulting in the use of my firearm. I find this discouraging as there is nothing proud or powerful in shooting a dog. However, the sense of pride and power derived from recognizing the situation at hand, responding quickly and fluidly, knowing this as the culmination of all that training we do, makes for an undeniable sense of competency. I can protect and defend even in the face of discouragement, frustration, terror, moving targets, multiple decisions to be made simultaneously.

Hurricane Harvey readying to make landfall on the other side of my state, El Paso enjoyed a cool (below 90 degrees) evening with a light breeze and some cloud cover. I walked my dogs without wearing a hat. On the next street over from mine, heading home, my three dogs maintained proper heel position- alongside me or slightly behind me, all on my left side. I looked back to check what foolishness they endeavored as I felt the leashes do a slight scrambling motion. To my horror, there stood a boxer, right up to my two biggest dogs, challenging them.

“Not again! “ my brain screams.

I did not know this dog. Looking across to his posture, he looked like a boxer/ bulldog mix. His short stocky body with shorter than usual for a boxer’s leg length made me say, “Sherman Tank”. This guy was a powerhouse. Not smiling, not batting playfully with his front paws at my dogs’ faces, not sniffing noses or behinds, not bowing down on the forelegs in a play posture, this dog challenged. He had come out of nowhere, he had neither a leash, nor a person. He growled and snapped at my 80 pound male and my 45 pound female. He baited them to fight. Standing at a 6 foot plus distance ( length of leashes plus length of dogs), I could not physically reach this intruder. If I could, my options for handling him were slim to none. He wore a collar, but did his tags give any salient information. With that flat face, wide jawed build, barely a turn of his head would allow for his jaws to clamp down on me. Just like before.

I wondered where all the people were, this was a pleasant evening. Usually, people are outside and now no person could be seen. I’m in the Twilight Zone. Just like before. My initial, “hey!” soon enough turned into, “HEY!!HEY!!HEY!!” Startle the dog, stop the dog, create witnesses. Someone has to come out. My deepest, strongest bellowing only served to make me lose my voice within the hour. No one came out, the dog would not stop with his challenging, snapping, growling. My dogs stood in that basic stock still posture of dogs who are saying, “get away from me, you are crowding me,” while they shuffled their paws nervously.

I ran down the list in my head: dog charges from no where, I never heard him or saw where he came from; I first become aware of a skirmish by way of my dogs’ leashes creating a disturbance in my hold of them; I turn to see an unleashed, unpersoned dog who growls, snaps and challenges my two bigger dogs; this is a bull baiting breed, wired to fight; this same dog will neither cease nor desist. By remaining calm, I affect officer presence. My verbals are strong and specific, but to no avail in the presence of my assailant. I cannot engage in soft techniques like pepper spray, the breeze would make for the great likelihood I would hose myself down. I cannot engage in hard techniques, the dog is too far away and I am disabled, I cannot physically wrestle with this powerful, aggressively inclined dog. My littlest dog successfully hides behind the two bigger ones, but I could see this four dog ring around the rosie circling for I don’t know how long before the boxer mix lunges and bites. I am left with the final level on the use of force continuum: deadly force. I must employ use of a firearm.

On this walk, I carried my Bauer International .25 caliber, 1 1/2” barrel, pocket pistol in my jeans pocket. In my back pockets I carried my phone and my credentials which also include my concealed handgun license. In my left hand I held three leashes, in my right a filled poop bag. Some tease me about my teeny tiny pistol, but it brings me confidence and I am allowed. If we do not exercise our rights, we stand to lose them. But, this time, more than confidence, I needed to possess my wits. Thank God for training, I knew what to do, even in in the midst of four moving targets.

Having fired this pistol at the range only two times since acquiring this gun just over a year ago, I drew, and with a point shooting formation, fired. I believe I hit my target, training pays off, once again. This big powerful dog winced, curled up a little, then scuttled off across the street to the front yard of a house that left me to consider that was his home. I did not need to fire more rounds, the threat had been neutralized. I could not, would not fire more rounds, my gun would not be accurate at that distance.

Still, no people, I really am in the Twilight Zone. I get out my phone to call the incident in and I then realized that the indescribable intensity of the situation left me in shock. I dialed 411, information. Watching myself make this error, I then corrected myself and redialed to reach 911. The call began so strangled and tangled. My voice stuck in my throat from the atrocity of the event, bellowing and bellowing to no avail, as well as the shock of the circumstances. Once I pulled my sentences together and announced, “shots fired, I’m a retired federal law enforcement officer, I have my credentials on me and my CHL”, I kicked into gear and gave the full report.

NOW a lady comes out of the house on the side of the street where I stood and she went across the street to the dog. Was it her dog? Did she live there or the house she came out of? I did not know. I don’t know my neighbors other than to exchange a pleasant, “Hello,” if I see folks out. While I am on the phone, while she is now across the street, she yells at me, “Did you shoot this dog?” I said, “yes, and I am calling it in.” Another couple men come out of houses and all go to the dog. No one asks me if I am ok. No one asks me what happened, if I knew what happened.

The 911 dispatch asks me to stay there until a unit arrives. But, when a man in a small blue hatchback comes around the corner, stops in front of me and threatens my life, I need to leave. This man tells me, first, the dog in question, would not hurt a flea. Well, I was not walking my fleas, so I would not know about that. Then, he gets really hostile with, “I’m going to FUCKING get a gun and I’m going to FUCKING shoot YOU!” I’m terrified. The circumstances are bad enough without receiving this sort of reception. At present I await the 911 tapes to see if this verbal interchange picked up. Still connected with the dispatch, I say how things are getting hostile, I would like to walk home. I’m asked if they laid hands on me, I relate a negatory on that, the threats are verbal. I don’t want to stick around for more. The irony of this interchange did not strike me until an hour later. This man threatens me my life with a gun his is going to get although I am the one standing right there with a gun able to take him out, on the spot. I do not need to go get anything. I’m right there, at the ready. But, this is what training does: prepares us for the worst case scenario and keeps us collected and able to carry on.

I walked home and waited and waited and waited. Two police officers and one animal control officer finally arrive. I’d unloaded the weapon and placed it on a table with my credentials. They never want to see any of it. They let me know they went to the other house first. That is why I waited. The officers told me the first level of discussion with these people, the dog did go back to its house, was that the dog gets out almost every day. WHAT?!? How had I never seen this before? Did they recently get this dog? The good news is, the police officers tell me they instantly issued a citation to the man for a loose dog. Our city has leash laws. With that, I am completely exonerated.

The police visited with my dogs to see that they were not the instigators of any shenanigans, that they were unharmed. The police told me the dog was hit on the left shoulder. To that moment the dog lived. The animal control officer wanted to see my dogs’ shot records. Turns out one of my quilt guild friends is an animal control officer whom this man knows, I love El Paso.

In the end, I was told I did nothing wrong, just like before. I was told I am allowed to protect myself and my dogs. God Bless Texas. In the end, they did not want to see my credentials or my CHL or the weapon fired. They just wanted to take down my driver’s license number. I never went into my firearms instructor/ competitive marksman/ national champion background. It did not seem necessary. It will come out in the court hearing, though, the boxer’s owner wants to sue me for his vet bill. For his dog that gets out. He must not know who I am. I checked his name on the internet and many came up. So I am not sure who this neighbor man is. If he checked me, my training and firearms background would come up as well as my current involvement in dog training. I know my shoot/ don’t shoot scenarios. I know my dog breeds and behaviors. Do you? Just don’t stop training.

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Sportsmanship

competitive shootingWhen we participate in a process and don’t like the results, good sportsmanship says to try again. We assess our performances, identify weaknesses, work out a plan for the future that next time around might produce more favorable outcomes. Sometimes, the failures are totally shocking; but oftentimes the best lessons come from these experiences. I lost 70 points at the Nationals one year due not to my marksmanship with the pistol, but due to shoddy scorecard tallying. Wow. The shooter next to me, as per procedure, scored my target. I reviewed his scoring and did not sign the card. Whatever rushed that shooter, he added my numbers incorrectly. He amended my card and I signed. However, I STILL messed myself up by not double checking his recount; he still committed to erroneous math. I did not realize this monstrous oversight until the official scores were posted. I trusted he took care of his error. I fetched my targets, the referees looked up my score card: yes, I shot 70 points more than what I signed. But, the rules stood. I signed a bad card. I would have won the Nationals that year, but for not paying attention to the math error of another person.

I did not quit, I did not riot. I did not burn, maim, threaten. I think I did some whining, I know I pouted, but not for long. I was up next for my service gun events. My anger at myself pinpointed my focus and I set a national record that year in the service auto event with a gun I’d never even fired before. Now paying full attention my focus never shifted. I knew how to fully participate, this time with complete success, down to recounting the score card before signing. This year’s Presidential election reminded me of this long ago 2002 Nationals event. Of this Presidential election, did I participate? Did I vote? Did I try? That is all any over 18 years of age, registered American voter can do: participate in the process. Make your choice count by casting your ballot. Then shut up about it. Go live your life and be a good sport about it. This is America. We’ll be doing this again in another four years.

 

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The Dark Side

competitive marksmanship

competitive marksmanship

What makes one person law abiding, the next behave illegally? What makes for a few dumb mistakes versus a life time, a life style of purposeful wrong doing? I ponder this as I watch the morning news connected with the very events of the night before which unfolded down the hill from my backyard view. Police blocked off this one street at both its ends, spending hours coaxing a wanted fugitive from his apartment. I tried walking my dogs that evening, but couldn’t proceed due to the blockade. That is how I learned something was going on. I marched back home and could look across my back wall, out over the area, front row seats. I saw the police unit, the light bars strobing through the night darkness. At one point, I heard a female officer’s voice over the bullhorn, “come out with your hands up!”. She repeated herself so many times I wondered what academy she went through. Officer presence, verbal commands, soft techniques, hard techniques, deadly force. She stayed very stuck in the verbal command level of the Use of Force Continuum; no wonder no one listened to her. She had lost her aura of officer command. She should have had her partners go in and retrieve the fugitive while repeating her command only once. I finally went to bed; I got bored. House and grounds locked up, alarm on, firearm at the ready, I slept well. The morning news, then, reported that said fugitive finally presented himself to the police after about 4 hours of holding out. I about fell over. I knew the guy. What makes a man turn? Had he always been on The Dark Side and just gotten away with it until he didn’t? Did he incur a sudden surge of insurmountable obstacles he believed Organized Crime would overcome? He had been my neighbor on the same street as me when I first moved to this town, a presentable professional with the wife and kid and even a little dog. Now, come to find out, he was still my neighbor but at this current locale. So, what is the lesson learned? Something trite like, “you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family,” falls short. How about, “ you can’t pick your family or your neighbors,” doesn’t really fit either. Maybe staying observant and vigilant works well. Even better, staying on the law abiding side of citizen conduct works best. We all ponder the Dark Side. It’s human. But to actually follow through relinquishes the rights and delights of adulthood. I’d rather stay grown up, right intact, and out of trouble.

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One Year

competitive marksmanshipThey say it takes a year to properly grieve a loss or life changing event. In that year, every holiday, anniversary, red letter date on your calendar happens once, allowing for living through each of these events in the form of the new person we become at least one time. We become a new person from divorce. We enjoyed marital status, now we are newly single. We were children ever able to turn to parents who now may have passed. Now we are singularly adults. We may have been trained officers, always ready, never fully tested in the field. Now, we count confirmed kills. We transform as a result of these and any other life changing events. To dismiss, demean or degrade the experiences only means our grief process leaks out unexpectedly in awkward and even unacceptable ways.

It has been a year, now, since I had to use my gun and I am unquestioningly a different person. More ME than ever, I discovered facets of myself as of yet unrevealed. Powerful, adept, sharp, top the list of how I see myself. Responds swiftly and appropriately in the face of danger gets added on. Not that I stand without fear, but I prove to myself that in frightening situations I know what to do, I am field tested. Sometimes this means walking away, do not proceed one step further. Sometimes, like this one time, my frightening event meant drawing and firing my weapon.

And sometimes, I feel guilty that I do not feel guilty. Defending one’s own with a firearm renders a quiet confidence. In addition, defending one’s own with a firearm does not lend itself to screaming from any mountain top, “I DID it!” as one might do after completing running a marathon. Both require extensive training, commitment, attention to detail. But, using a firearm renders an opinion of such extreme contrasts wherein keeping quiet becomes most appropriate, making for that quiet confidence. I know what I did. Every person who has confirmed hits knows what I’m talking about. If you have never had to use your gun, God bless you. Keep training. Never stop training. You do not know when your day will come. Hopefully, never.

 

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I Had to Use My Gun Today

competitive marksmanshipAlways at the ready, I never thought I would ever have to actually use my gun. Then came the day, three weeks ago, now, when I called my friends to say, “I had to  use my gun, today.”

The circumstances presented textbook case study. My response left the police reassuring me that I did not do anything wrong. But the aftermath leaves me with a sense that knowing what it feels like to kill will never ever dissipate, will never fade into any background. It now defines me.

While walking my dogs through my highly colorful neighborhood, I always notice my surroundings. Like the big city I come from, I think of myself as remaining nonplussed by the subdivisions which sport different socioeconomic strata every other street. This definitely describes my area. Not that people don’t have money, it is how they choose to spend it. Pride in ownership of one’s home does not top anyone’s list of necessary expenditures. I always walk my dog on a variety of routes through my neighborhood, knowing every house and every dog behind every gate. I say “hello” to all, creating good neighbor relations. I say “hi, pup” to all the dogs, as this might be the only human interaction they get. The dogs show very agitated behavior from behind their gates ranging from anxious and frightened to aggressive and vicious. I always have a plan in case of dogs breaking loose or already being loose. I can say I call Animal Control more times than I can remember. I can lay claim to encountering loose dogs, me and mine have been charged or corralled, and I have even had to physically submit dogs. It is annoying. But, knowing I can handle myself breeds confidence. Knowing I am within my rights to employ deadly force breeds strength of character. All my calls to Animal Control, my Concealed Handgun License classes and federal law enforcement office training confirms this. Three weeks ago, the baby boxers I observed from the past several months became the address in question. Upon first seeing these pups, I thought “devil dogs”. I assessed they were completely without human companionship and, as per this set up, the dogs turn on each other. I wondered why the little devils didn’t just walk right through their gate slats. I planned on stepping on them in such event and bringing them to their front door, hoping someone would answer the door. Over time, I never saw any people at that house, but I did see the meeker baby boxer replaced by an even milder Husky. Did they eat the baby boxer? And, over time, the remaining boxer grew as did his aggression. For awhile, the owners put up a wooden board, as if that would stop the dog from breaking out of their gate. However, on September 24, 2014, I walked down the street, crossed at the end and proceeded up the street, my norm for this dog walk route. Across the street from The House, the boxer growled and barked and snarled. As usual and as a bigger dog than a couple months ago. On his side of the street, in front of his house, the unthinkable unfolded. This baby boxer, now 4-6 months old, maybe 20-25 pounds of filling out aggression, consciously squeezed out from between the slats of his gates (Husky not seen for awhile, he probably got eaten, too?) and makes a beeline for my black lab’s neck. This is fight stance. I knew better than to run as I would incite the boxer’s prey drive. He’s 4WD, I’m disabled and about 1/2 wheel drive. I stood my ground. The boxer went right for my dog’s jugular. Not the nose to nose greet, not the butt sniff, but straight for the kill zone. Shit, the owners were working on building a fight dog. I got angry in my heart: “NO ONE hurts Goofy!” He can do that all by himself, fully living up to his name. I ran through my options in my brain: Grab the dog by his neck, press him into the ground into a submission hold. Wait, boxers don’t have necks. I could grab him… where? And, boxers have no snout. The instant he turns his face, to my body reaching for his, his teeth are on my arm, my face, my neck, my vitals. He growls, snarls, holds his aggressive stance, challenging my dog. My dog looks at me helplessly, not a fighter. Boxer’s hackles stand upright from head to tail. I think of the NRA magazine article I recently read on how a clean shoot can still result in repercussions unforeseen. The court cases, the attorney’s fees, the months and years of drawn out court dates and trials. I thought about seeing Zero Options other than resorting  to deadly force. As I held the dogs’ leashes in my left hand, my little dog standing behind the labrador in question, I did what I trained 20 years for: I kept my eye on the target, accessing the zipper to my pouch I always carry on the dog walks. Keys in front pouch pocket. Pistol and poop scoop bags in back pocket. The accessed pouch, where I practiced a million times how to grip my pistol and only my pistol amongst the poop bags, my right hand gripped the gun, index finger off the trigger, other fingers wrapping around the grip in a most familiar if not comforting feeling. I would be OK. I knew what I was doing. I knew what to do. Drawing, finger now on the trigger,  I double tapped the aggressor, affecting a clean kill. My dogs never moved. My dogs never winced. I trained for this moment of Life or Death for 20 years, but they had not. The boxer fell with a final helpless expression to his no longer angry puppy face. Upon his final exhale, he issued a scream. I will have to live with this memory the rest of my life. I did not stick around to collect cartridges, I did not inspect for bullet holes. I zoned out at this point. In shock, now, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. No one came to help. No one came out of a single house. I stood all along in the world. Like any self respecting woman, I peed my pants. They never tell you this in training. I’ve heard of barfing, but never of the bladder letting loose. All I could think was I needed to get home to shower and change. I marched home 1/2 a mile in record time, my clock reporting the hour of 911, 0911. I will always remember that, too. That sense of Twilight Zone left me wondering who I was supposed to call first. Animal Control,? The Police Department? My agency I retired from? Confounded that all this had to happen, I only could put together needing to call my FFL. Go figure? He set me straight as to calling Animal Control first. From there, they patched me over to 911 where reports of shots fired had been called in. Before the police officers arrived, I showered and changed. I even told them about peeing pants, but they were very kind by not putting that part in the official report. I identified myself on the phone and again in person as being a retired officer, as being disabled, as holding a CHL. I could articulate NOT “I feared for my life”, but the dog charged, the dog went for my dog’s neck, the dog growled and barked viciously AND my ongoing observations including seeing the other dogs at that residence and then not seeing them there. A clean shot can not be validated with “I feared for my life”, but with listed features of the aggressor’s behavior. This can include a person twice your size waving a club screaming, “I’m going to kill you.’ That calls for deadly force. The boxer charging me and mine with articulable behavior as intending to kill constituting a deadly force response. The officers examined my gun and wanted to know if I’d discharged it. The magazine did not contain enough bullets for a double tap from a fully loaded magazine. What was I to tell them? I’m too lazy to fully load? If I need more than 6 rounds in the mag I should not be carrying? But my shocky brain cleared up as I told them I loaded revolver friendly, as a former competitor, we only loaded for six. That fully explained the remaining 4 rounds from my magazine. And that was it. The police left with reassuring me I’d done nothing wrong. I did what I trained for. I shot accurately, cleanly, without question. But now what? The training never goes beyond this moment. So, I went to the range with my friendly neighborhood FFL to make sure I “got back on the horse’ right away. No problems there. I sought counsel with an agency peer counselor. Talking to a fellow office evens out the playing field, we all face on the job dilemmas and traumas. I sought private counseling sessions to make sure I stay grounded. I have to put my dogs in the car, now and walk them elsewhere. I have to change my routines. Instead of being pissed off- my norm- I have to see the gratitude in the moment. I didn’t get arrested, I did not shoot my own dogs, PETA or the SPCA did not picket my front yard or graffiti my garage door. The Devil Dog owners did not retaliate. I must, though, remain vigilant, vengeance can be patient. Oh, and the other baby boxer? It already went to Animal Control. When the police visited my house, they got the radio call saying the owner got notified of my actions and the other boxer was already in Animal Control. Hmmm.

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