Sunday, April 29, 2007

Condition White: When "It Can't Happen To Me" Happens

I promised last week that I'd address the events at Virginia Tech in due time, and so I will now.

First, a few observations. I am not at all surprised by the instant reactions of the usual suspects, such as the Roanoke Times, calling for not only tighter gun laws but an outright repeal of the Second Amendment. I for one would welcome a full-scale national debate on the issue, and I think I know which side would win. I started to reply to that particular paper, but stopped when I realized that the eyes and ears of its editors were closed; fine, I understand them quite well and recognize them for what they are, and we will agree to disagree. Besides, I think KduT disposed of them nicely with one word-- "asshats."

Now, I am surprised by the lack of a large and vocal movement on Capitol Hill and other places to enact new legislation to tighten the laws or ban certain guns, although fellow-travelers like Rep McCarthy (D, NY) are making noises. The stunning silence suggests that the blue party (and some in the red party) understand the issue and won't be flogged into hysterics. Or, it could suggest that the ugliness will come later. We'll see.

I'm deeply troubled that the shooter's mental history evaluation was never entered into the legal database, and that the relevant authorities appear not have tracked it well at all. By all rights he should have been legally tagged as mentally unstable, and removed from the university. That in itself would not have ensured that he wouldn't get a gun-- what controls do?-- but it would have shut off the legal-purchase avenue. Bottom line: everyone in the chain has to do his part to support the existing (and very good) laws. Time will reveal the details and tell what culpability, if any, will be assessed, but I know where blame doesn't lie, and that's with the law-abiding gun-owning population.

What troubles me the most is the pervasive effect of one of the more pernicious aspects of gun-control: that is, don't resist, call the cops, let someone else handle it. Wrong! Your personal security is always your responsibility, even when in a civilized society we delegate some powers to the police for general security. The police, no matter how devoted and skilled, can never be in a position to protect everyone at all times, in all places.

The casualties of that day were in what the late, great Jeff Cooper called Condition White. Cooper developed and taught psychological conditioning as one of the three legs of the combat triad, alongside marksmanship and gunhandling. (See here for a first-hand description, which you should read because I'm not going to explain it in detail.) But, as he pointed out, it serves just as well for general daily life, whether one is armed or not. In short, it makes good sense, and it can spare you some unfortunate experiences. The color code boils down to this: something bad might never happen to you, but betting that it won't is a losing proposition. What you can have is a method to condition yourself to a higher level of alertness that you can maintain indefinitely, and to prepare yourself to take certain steps in the event of an emergency. It allows you to turn, "Oh my God! I can't believe this is happening! What am I supposed to do??" into "This is ugly, but I knew it might happen one day, and I'm prepared for it." It's preparation, not paranoia, because it's based in a cold, hard appraisal of reality.

Having been assured that the university was a gun-free zone, that the responsibility for security lay with the authorities, and that one should never try to defend oneself, the VT victims naturally assumed that nothing could happen to them. Unfortunately, horribly, I'm certain they were all thinking, "This can't be happening to me!" right up to the very end. This is not to suggest that they in any way deserved their fate; none of them deserved to die. Rather, it is to illustrate how they had been lulled into a false sense of security, and had therefore adopted the worong mindset.

There was one exception. Professor Librescu, the hero of the hour, was demonstrably in Condition Yellow, even if he wasn't familiar with Cooper's color code. That he knew from close personal experience that this could indeed happen to him is the only rational explanation for his ability to trip the psychological trigger and act decisively. That he was possessed of extraordinary courage is true, and has been rightly been extolled, but what has not been discussed in the media is his mindset.

If there is one thing I hope the nation at large learns from this awful thing is to be prepared to act in the face of danger. Bad things happen to good people, but to be mentally prepared is to be armed against sudden emergencies, even if you're not physically armed (which you should be). Weapons are usually at hand, even in a classroom and even when you've been disarmed mentally and physically. A chair, a fire extinguisher, a heavy book bag, a cup of scalding hot coffee-- anything to blind the attacker and take him off his line of attack. Yes, it's risky, but isn't your life worth the risk?

Condition White is an inviting state of mind, but it's no way to live. Unfortunately sometimes it's a quick way to die.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes of course !! sidearms should be mandatory at all sporting events.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, condition white is very inviting and constantly being in condition yellow is somewhat tiring but I have no choice, especially as a woman in this day and age...
like they say, you want to be in condition white, lock the doors and windows, check the locks, chamber check, magazine check...
drives me nuts that I have to go to DC 'naked'
Prof. Librescu was a Holocaust survivor and an Israeli, I am sure, condition yellow was his way of life...

1:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While late in your post you have some points regarding Jeff Cooper's preparation, your cental tenant about gun control is severly lacking. Regarding the VT shooting You wrote..."but I know where the blame doesn't lie, and that is with the law abiding gun-owning population." You conveniently overlook the fact that the shooter was a law-abiding gun owner until the day of his crime. You also, through either a convenient oversight or willful ignorance, write that had the criminal's mental health records been properly maintained in a legal database then he would not have been able to legally purchase a gun. Incorrect. He was voluntarily committed to a mental health facility in 2005, such a committment does not preclude the purchase of handguns in Virginia. Why? Because people such as yourself group any logical review of guns purchases under the umbrella of "tightening gun laws". Way to go(!), your misplaced vigilance in maintaining the 2nd amendment now allows suicidally depressed people access to semiautomatic weapons, with the predictable outcome.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This episode is a lot more complicate than it initially appears. Setting aside the preparation elements, with which I completely agree, I think we do need to look a little harder at the legal purchase. Clearly, a man like this should never have legal access to firearms. He should have been committed to a mental institution, based on prior actions. Yet, involuntary commitment is a slippery slope. Do we want to give the state that kind of power (think Soviet Union)?

There is a problem here that needs to be addressed without the knee-jerk sensibilities of any special interest group overwhelming the debate.

Let's stipulate that suicidally depressed madmen with guns are a bad thing. How do we minimize the possibility of the two mixing and minimize the harm when they do? The second part is, as suggested, up to us. Act to stop. The first part is more complicated and there aren't any easy answers.

1:23 PM  

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