The self-protection industry has been ablaze lately with discussions about firearms and children. In the last few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of parents who are seriously addressing the potential realities they face when presented with a violent encounter in the presence of their kids. The potential of this reality has brought about a lot of great discussion, often raising more questions than answers. It has also fostered some theories that, on the surface, look appealing, but when investigated further, tend to fall apart under the scrutiny of force-on-force testing or real incident data mining.

Below are the top five myths I’ve seen discussed regarding self-protection with children present and why I think they are dangerous to parents who wish to defend themselves and their kids.

Myth 1: “The closer my children are to me, the safer they will be.”

On any given online discussion group for parents, when a concerned parent starts to discuss feelings of unease about their environment or a particular person, they will often be given some sort of variation of this advice: Get your child closer to you. Other well-meaning parents will recommend child leashes, teaching the children to hold on to the parent, or some form of babywearing (carrying a child on your person in some form of carrier).

There are certainly instances where keeping your child extremely close is warranted, like at Disney World. But, on the other hand, in many violent encounters, the closer your child is to you, the more likely they are to be injured as a result.

Criminals looking for a quick score want nothing to do with a child. A child does not have the jewelry, the wallet, the keys to the car or the bank account. Children are noisy, and for the average criminal, they are hard to sell or trade without getting caught. And, taking one is an instant felony charge–far too much risk to deal with in most instances.

That being said, a criminal prepared to do violence to an innocent adult to get what they want does not demonstrate much of a conscience if a child happens to get in their way. Many times over, children have been hit, kicked, shot or otherwise injured in the course of an attack meant for the adult caring for them.

Greg Ellifritz, from Active Response Training, shares one example in his article “Are Your Instincts Putting Your Child In Danger.” Another example appears in this news story about a man who was beaten while his daughter slept on his shoulder.

It bears mentioning, however, that if the child is the intended victim of violence and cannot defend him or herself, then you may want to be as close to the situation as possible. Your ability to defend your child in any situation will depend heavily on your skillful use of the most appropriate level of force for that particular situation.

However, for the most part, when the child is not the intended target, the further away you can get your child from you the better… if you have time.

Myth 2: “I’ll be able to react in time.”

Time is a cruel and tricky mistress. How much time we think we have versus how much we actually have can be two entirely different things. People caught up in violent encounters often experience a distorted perception of time. Many people fail to recognize the speed with which violence can occur and how nonlinear the events can appear to be.

Among the many factors involved in determining the amount of time a person has to react in a violent encounter are proximity to the people involved, awareness, recognition, whether the stimulus they are reacting to is new to them, and whether they have a pre-existing plan in place to deal with the situation.

Given these factors, here are some principles you may want to consider:

  • You may not have time for any kind of response
  • The time you do have should be dedicated to accomplishing your main priority
  • Any task that complicates your main priority should be eliminated or considered secondary

If the first indication that you are in a violent encounter is that you have taken a bullet to your right eye that passes from front to rear and exits out of the base of your skull where your head meets your neck, I have some very bad news for you: you are not going to formulate and enact a robust response. You are going to die. Take comfort in the fact that your death will likely be quick and you probably weren’t even aware of it.

Most violent encounters are come-as-you-are events that require immediate, robust responses even if you’ve got a diaper bag over one arm, a kid on your hip, and your dominant hand in your pocket searching for your car keys.

If you find yourself in the more likely situation where you do have time to recognize what is going on and can form a robust response to it, you have one priority: dominate. By domination, I mean winning! Winning so spectacularly that you get to go home with no further injury, legally and morally justified in every way.

To be clear, dominating does not necessarily mean that fighting must occur. If you have the skill to de-escalate a violent encounter by talking your way out of it, rest assured, you have dominated that encounter. If you have preempted the situation by leaving the encounter before it could develop, you have dominated it. If you recognized the situation escalating and used a lesser means of force before it got deadly, you have dominated it.

But we should ask the question, what might complicate our ability to dominate the encounter? There are a few factors.

  • Not having the knowledge to recognize that violence may be imminent.
  • Not having your equipment accessible or immediately ready to use.
  • Not having the skill to use your equipment effectively.
  • Fixation on a task you believe must be completed before you can respond or on a tool you believe will help your response.

For our context, an example could be attempting to move your children to safety instead of responding with force quickly enough to end the situation as efficiently as possible. It could be attempting to give commands to family members who have not planned and rehearsed their response. It might mean having to rack a slide on an unchambered firearm or dig a can of pepper spray out of the bottom of a purse. It might mean fumbling to get your firearm out of the holster because you haven’t practiced.

Most violent encounters are come-as-you-are events that require immediate, robust responses even if you’ve got a diaper bag over one arm, a kid on your hip, and your dominant hand in your pocket searching for your car keys. If you are aware enough to know an attack is happening, make domination your priority. Attempt to free yourself from any secondary tasks.  Prepare in advance to dominate an encounter by equipping yourself with the kind of skills and equipment you are most likely to need in those moments.

Myth 3: “I always…”

Confidence is a valuable skill in personal protection. False confidence, on the other hand, can get you hurt.

As people formulate plans for personal protection, they often start by trying to diminish the chances of a violent attack taking place at all. It’s a worthy endeavor, but oftentimes, no thought is given to how to respond if that initial plan fails.

For example, someone might think, “I always lock my doors and therefore everything of value in my home is safe from being taken.” On the surface, this is true, and their home may well be safe from the opportunistic criminal going down the street looking for unlocked doors. However, we can probably all recall the time we forgot to lock our doors, and sometimes even locked doors don’t stop people. We plan for this by taking advantage of additional protection like homeowners insurance, home invasion plans, alarm systems, and cameras.

The need for multiple contingency plans is no different in the context of defending ourselves and our children. Parents will often say things like, “I always hold my children in my left arm only so that my dominant hand is free to draw a gun,” or “I always make sure my children walk behind me so that if I’m involved in a violent incident I have my full visual field and they won’t be caught in my crossfire,” or, “I’m always aware of who is around me and what they are doing,” etc.

“You may have exceptional awareness but find yourself in a situation where someone purposefully distracts you to set up an ambush.”

On the surface, these practices seem like they would be sufficient to prevent a negative outcome. Indeed, always carrying a child in your left arm (if you are right-handed) would keep your dominant hand free to respond to any given number of tasks. However, there are all sorts of reasons your dominant hand might still be occupied, and you may not be aware of just how many times your dominant hand is busy in a given day. You are also not preparing for the possibility that the first indication of violence could be the incapacitation of your dominant hand in a variety of ways: injury, someone grabbing it, or it getting hung up, for example.

You might be successful in always keeping your children behind you when you walk, but you may not be planning for the possibility that a violent incident could come from an unexpected direction, shift course to a different direction, or that some other incident may force you to respond through violence with your children between you and your attacker. Or, you may have exceptional awareness but find yourself in a situation where someone purposefully distracts you to set up an ambush.

If you find yourself using phrases like, “I always…,” “I never…,” or “I would just…,” I strongly recommend you stop and consider the failure points in case your “always” or “never” don’t work according to plan — even if it is through no fault of your own.

Myth 4: “My children know better.”

I can sum up this entire section with the following: if your life or death plan is dependent upon the obedience of a child who is not capable of understanding the gravity of the responsibly placed upon them, you are playing a potentially deadly game with their life.

If you’ve ever said any of the following, you may want to consider what would happen if your children were to behave in a way you do not expect:

  • “My children know better than to go in the closet where I store my guns.”
  • “My children know better than to step in front of me when I draw my gun.”
  • “My children know better than to pick up a gun they find in someone else’s house.”
  • “My children know better…”

Far better than relying on the understanding and obedience of a child is planning for their curiosity, misunderstanding, and chaos.

Keep your firearms stored responsibly in locked, secure places that children under the age of understanding cannot access. Have robust techniques and tactics to move loved ones out of your lane of fire and control them if need be. Think long and hard about any task or responsibility you give a child and whether or not their life would be in danger if they failed to comply. Then, consider if you are willing to wager that bet at their current level of understanding.

Preparing children for an adulthood where they will be responsible for their own lives is the ultimate goal of parenthood. Until those children become responsible adults, their lives are in their parent’s or caregiver’s hands. We must protect them from others and from themselves.

Myth 5: “Nobody wants to mess with this mama/papa bear.”

When it comes to personal protection and children, parents can get emotional. This is understandable, considering the significance our children have in our lives. The idea of someone hurting our children or taking them away from us can elicit strong emotional reactions.

The error is not in feeling but in believing that those feelings will somehow magically endow us with skill and understanding that we normally would not possess.

In fact, emotions — if not properly controlled — can have a detrimental impact on our ability to physically perform and think clearly in a dangerous situation. High levels of shooting skill, for instance, can often only be performed under stress when the individual can reign in their emotions and think rationally. Of course, that assumes the existence of prior training and well-maintained shooting ability. If you can’t perform a one-handed head shot at seven yards cold, on demand when there is no stress present, then your likelihood of you doing it in an intense moment of high stress is pretty small.

“The error is not in feeling but in believing that those feelings will somehow magically endow us with skill and understanding that we normally would not possess.”

You are human, and you are only ever as skilled and capable as you have prepared yourself to be regardless of whether or not your children are present. You are not outside of the realm of normal human reactions and limitations just because you happen to have your children with you. You are subject to the same freeze, fight, flight and fright reactions. Unless you have prepared yourself with knowledge of what a violent encounter looks like, know the justifiable responses to that violence, and have developed the skills to perform those responses based on robust techniques, you cannot expect that knowledge and skill to magically come to you in a heated moment.

Be mindful that other bigger, meaner bears aren’t all that afraid of papa and mama bears and sometimes you and your cubs look mighty tasty. It’s up to you to put in the work that makes you less attractive to violent criminals and to have the knowledge, skills and understanding that keeps you and your children safe.

Defending yourself and your family is a worthy and noble calling, but having kids in the mix can make things complicated. The best thing you can do is prepare. Prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. The stakes are too high to simply hope for the best and stop there. If you are willing to buy a gun, be willing to know how to use it as well as how to keep it safely locked away or on your person in the home. If you are willing to carry a gun, know how to use it without endangering anyone else other than the bad guy. Practice with it. Then practice some more.

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