Friday, May 04, 2007


Happy Birthday, Sir Harry!

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.