As Claude Werner has noted many times, in the majority of self-defense situations that go to guns, the training that person has received and the equipment that person has selected to use has almost zero bearing on the outcome of the event. The mere fact that the individual has chosen to arm themselves is what makes the difference between success and failure… until it doesn’t. It’s the “until it doesn’t” where training and equipment selection come into play, and it is how we discuss those instances that becomes crucially important, especially when educating people that are new to the realm of self-defense.
So, let’s discuss these instances where training and/or equipment has truly made the difference between success or disaster. There’s just one problem, how do you talk about something that there is no word for? We’ve got these things that are occurring, sometimes with great frequency, that for our purposes, literally shape the course of history yet we have no way to categorize them, or group them together. To paraphrase Morgan Atwood of BFE Labs, names have power, and having a term to categorize the events that shape our community can only help make the lessons we learn from them more accessible to the people who need those lessons most.
I’m going to steal a term from the medical community, Sentinel Event, and apply it to our community. As defined by me, it looks something like this.
Sentinel Event – A statistical outlier amongst critical incidents where prior decision making (Beyond just being armed), i.e. Training received and/or equipment selected, has a clear impact on the positive/negative outcome of the event.
These are the events that rock us to the core, that teach us the most valuable lessons often times due to the total failure that occurs during them. They are discussed as if they are one time events, YET, they occur with alarming frequency. Let’s look at some examples in the LE world. We have The Newhall Massacre, The Miami FBI Gunfight, Columbine, North Hollywood, and many more. These are thought of as single events, and in many ways they are, but from a teachable moment standpoint they are the SAME KIND of event, an incident thought of as so unlikely by the participants before it occurred that there had been zero pre-need decision making associated with them.
The civilian community is even worse in this regard. A quick search of google will reveal instance after instance of improper equipment selection having disastrous outcomes. Every single time someone is shot that didn’t need it simply because the shooter did not have a flashlight, or the training to positively identify a target before engaging it. Equipment selection and training both are the critical area of breakdown yet they keep occurring over and over again. Even outside of the narrow focus of having a light and identifying a target, there are various examples, often times with disastrous outcomes, of civilians experiencing Sentinel Events. They are viewed as uncommon by almost everyone, yet they keep happening over and over again. George Zimmerman leaving the safety of his truck, Jerome Ersland murdering a robber immediately after he had used perfectly legal and justified force, Theodore Wafer in Detroit, all due to massive breakdowns in training.
For better or worse the culture of self-defense is fixated firmly on the gun as the solution, when in reality it is only a tool WE utilize. There are many fine trainers who will educate people as to why viewing the gun as a magic talisman used to ward off evil is probably not a good idea, but HOW do we get people to recognize there are questions they should be asking in the first place? It is my opinion that the only way to do so is by raising awareness as to how often these “farfetched, ramboesque, timmy-fantasy, tactical band camp” issues occur. Imagine if every time one of these events occur we call it a Sentinel Event, to the point where it is just a forgone part of the self-defense/firearms community. What we then do is INSTILL in people from day one of their introduction into our culture that there are things to think about beyond just having a gun, simply by making the term part of the conversation.
“It’s easy to be up ahead, and say that “those who want to, who ‘get it’, will join us”, but its not always the case; Some people will simply sit down and wait, or stagnate, for lack of a trail guide. Not everyone who is serious about self protection is a pioneering spirit, or free-thinker; They just don’t want to die. And until someone shows them the way, they will exist in whatever box they’ve been put into, or put themselves into, and never know. Increasing someones awareness is sometimes all it takes.” – Morgan Atwood of BFE Labs
So, if you hear me throwing around the term Sentinel Event, at least now you’ll know what I’m talking about and more importantly WHY I’m talking about it. We have the ability to shape a new generation of shooters and self-defense minded people, let’s teach them to think WITH a gun in their hand instead of letting them assume all they need, is the gun in their hand.