Ballistics by the inch

Book review – “Lessons from Armed America.”

I first came to know Kathy Jackson as a commenter and moderator on a couple of larger (and largely non-political) firearms forums.  You know how it is: you see an intelligent comment someone makes, and it forces you to pause and consider what they said.  Or you say to yourself “damn, I wish I said that.”  Then you glance at the name/handle associated with the comment.  After a while you come to realize that that name keeps popping up, that you agree with what this person says, or want to hear their opinion before making up your own mind on a given topic.  In other words, you come to respect that person, whether or not you always agree with everything they say.

Then one day, I saw a link in her signature line.  To something called “Cornered Cat.”  I went and took a look.  And happily discovered that Kathy had been putting together a site with a lot of her collected thoughts – thoughts oriented towards women, on the topic of self-defensive use of a firearm.

That site has grown, and it is one of the ones I most commonly refer people to – not just women, but anyone who is considering the moral & legal ramifications of the decision to carry a weapon for their own protection.  It is, simply, one of the best places to get sensible, useful information for anyone who is not already an expert (and even a few who think they are.)

So when I found out that Kathy was working on a book, my expectation was that she would bring her clarity of writing/thinking on the subject into another form, perhaps with a slightly different focus.  And that’s what “Lessons from Armed America” turned out to be.

Working with co-author Mark Walters, they have written a book which uses actual real-life events which have occurred, and then analyze what lessons can be learned from those events.  Wisely, I think, Walters (who does a column and has a radio show on defensive gun uses) presents the story of what happened, and then in the following chapter Jackson uses that as a case study to see what went right and what went wrong, and how it relates to the relevant law.  Here’s the beginning of Chapter 2, following Walter’s recounting of an incident he experienced personally, as an example:

In Florida, as in other states, it is illegal to brandish or threaten other people with dangerous weapons.  There is one notable exception, however: it is perfectly legal to display or exhibit a firearm “in necessary self-defense.” What this means is that, contrary to internet public opinion, a person does not have to fire the weapon in order to use it lawfully for self defense.  In most states, if self defense is necessary, displaying the firearm as a deterrent is within the bounds of the law.  That is why Mark Walters’ friend informed him that he hadn’t violated any laws when he displayed his handgun to prevent a physical attack.

But more than that, the book addresses some of the mechanics of self defense – not in a “oh, when someone does this, you do that” sort of way, but rather in a “these things will happen: you will experience an adrenaline dump, and your perceptions of what happens will become skewed.  Time will seem to slow down.  You will likely have this kind of emotional response in the immediate aftermath, and a different kind a bit later. Be prepared for these questions to be asked by the police, your friends, your family…”  It is not formulaic; it is cautionary and informative in the best sense – showing you what has happened to others, and pointing out what you can reasonably expect to happen to you that you should prepare for.

Even beyond that, the book covers some of the same ground which Jackson covers on her site – things which very much bear repeating.  Such as making the moral decision to carry a weapon in self defense, and balancing that decision in the face of other ethical, moral, and religious beliefs.  How to address questions – even from yourself – about whether you are being paranoid or possessed by fear.  Or when you should carry.  You can get a sense of this from the chapter headings:

Chapter 1 – All Bets were Off!
Chapter 2 – Making the Decision
Chapter 3 – The Political Bravery of Michael DeBose
Chapter 4 – What are the Odds?
Chapter 5 – Get Back in the Car!
Chapter 6 – The Unarmed Alternatives
Chapter 7 – A Savage Gunfight
Chapter 8 – The Physiology of Danger
Chapter 9 – On a Cold February Night
Chapter 10 – Stalking and Stalkers
Chapter 11 – A Cold Day in Hell
Chapter 12 – When the Shooting Stops
Chapter 13 – Because I needed the Money
Chapter 14 – Sometimes Real Life Sucks!

“Lessons from Armed America” is not the be-all and end-all book about defensive use of a firearm.  No such single book can be written, in my opinion.  What this is is a valuable primer to a lot of the relevant issues pertaining to self-defense use of a gun, via actual experiences of ordinary Americans.  I would recommend it to anyone who is contemplating the need or desirability of accepting responsibility for their own defense by carrying a weapon.

Jim Downey

(Cross-posed from Daily Kos.)

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June 8, 2010 - Posted by | Discussion.

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