You’ve probably seen it on Facebook, and in firearm related websites or online forums. A member had an experience or read a newspaper article, and wants to know: can I shoot in this situation? What would you do?
This touches on a very valuable item in your toolbox: the ability to analyse scenarios in your head. And work out plans to deal with them. This skill (if practiced properly and realistically) can help you keep calm in case of an attack. And assist you in reacting with an outline of a plan.
I’ve asked for advice like this myself a few times. The variety and quality of the responses vary greatly, but seems to average out on the low side of useful.
Why does this happen? Our online haunts are full of serving and former policemen, military personnel of all stripes, and workers in the security and firearms industries. Where has the genuinely good advice gone?
If you know nothing about tactics, then asking someone knowledgeable seems like a good idea, right? But those trained in tactics know that giving specific advice to a completely untrained recipient will be rather useless. Or even endanger the person and others.
The knowledge, skills and attitude gap between the professional and the Johnny-no-stars civilian is just too big. It’s the equivalent of asking someone how to drive a Formula 1 race car when all you’ve ever driven is a 1995 Honda Ballade.
Hence, most people with real-world knowledge bow out of the online advice-giving game. This leaves you with people who know something, and others who think they know something. Is taking advice from them really worthwhile?
Point Of View
Even if the advice-dispenser is a Super-Ninja-Covert-Operator-Space-Shuttle-Door-Gunner, or a member of the STF, does their knowledge apply to you? Some of it probably will, and that will make you feel good, but most of it won’t. And you may not pick up on this fact.
Very few people are good teachers. Even fewer people can dumb-down a subject they have advanced knowledge of to suit a newbie. Add to this that their knowledge needs to be altered to suit your circumstances, and you have a recipe for a misunderstanding.
For example – breaching a door and incapacitating the people inside a room is a short (though still dangerous) answer to a specific scenario. Most of us can’t own flash bangs and don’t have battering rams. So now the advice-giver with the military background has to figure out a way for you to storm your own living room at night. Without any gear or backup. His mind might not work that way. Or he may not be able to convey what you would need to do to achieve similar results.
Similarly, a patrol cop has a different way of looking at these situations than you or the military man. He probably has backup inbound at high speed, and at least one crew member watching his back. So he will usually use his reference framework when dispensing advice.
On the internet, nobody can hear you scream
Picture it – Sicily, 1943. This famous sitcom line was always followed by a funny story. But for our purposes it raises a question: can you make someone picture it? Do you have sufficient command of the English language to explain a dynamic situation to people from various backgrounds and native languages? Especially when the situation takes place in a location they’ve never seen? Is your use of language exceedingly verbose, too simple, or even your grammar can being bad? All of these and many other factors influence how people read your question, and what kind of response you get.
In person this is an easy problem to work around. You can realise the person you’re talking to isn’t an escapee from some kind of asylum. He just isn’t too good at expressing himself in the language available to him at the time. On the internet, with no body language or tone of voice, your scenario could make absolutely no sense to someone reading it. Or they could picture it completely differently to what you’re trying to describe.
Reality versus fantasy
Even with extremely descriptive prose, what you picture in your mind might not be what the other person imagines in his. Sometimes literally drawing pictures doesn’t help.
Below is a screenshot of a reply from a local online forum. I asked a question regarding a specific home robbery which had occurred, and what the forum members would suggest as a reaction. In this specific scenario, the best plan is to remain stationary and wait for the police or security to arrive. This is exactly why I asked the question – I wanted to illustrate to the robbery victims that taking offensive action would have been the wrong decision in their situation. To assist, I even drew a rough floor plan of the house in question. Here is one of the replies:
You can clearly see we’re not talking about the same thing, right? I hope so. But somehow there was a complete disconnect between this reply and the question asked. This should show you just how wide the difference can be between what you ask, and what the other person processes and decides is good advice. Of course, sometimes people just have to comment. Even if they don’t have anything new or constructive to add to the conversation.
(P.S. The most succinct reply came via email from a friend: “Short answer, you’re fucked”).
Can I Shoot?
There are usually three meanings behind this question when someone asks it online.
Person One purely wants know if he is legally allowed to draw his gun and fire. He wants to know if the law will be on his side if he does this.
Person Two wants to know if the situation actually warrants the use of a firearm, morally and ethically. Or would a different action or tool be a better option?
Person Three just wants to know if he can finally use his gun now. He’s the kind of guy who is looking for an opportunity to use his gun, and he would probably open his beer by shooting it if he could.
Do you see how perilous giving or taking advice is when the true meaning and motive behind a question is unknown? Evaluating the legal aspects and answering affirmative will not help Person Two or Three. Conversely, deeming the asker a trigger happy maniac and answering negative won’t be good advice for Persons One or Two.
Online advice – Buyer beware!
In conclusion, be exceedingly careful before giving or taking advice online. Give more weight to advice from respected people in the Facebook group or forum you are in. There’s usually a reason why they are respected. The advice of people who respected across groups should carry even more weight. And the advice of people who are openly mocked and ridiculed should be taken with a large pinch of salt. When in doubt, speak to the moderators or admins of the group or forum. They will often be very candid about the knowledge of some of the people you encounter there. Try to find out the background and experience of the person you’re interacting with, and make sure their knowledge applies to you and your situation.
And if you’re the person giving the advice, stay in your lane. And don’t be offended if your massive experience simply doesn’t apply to the scenario or the person who needs advice.
Written by David de Beer
David is an ex-Reservist who served in a station level robbery task team and is currently a part-time range officer who enjoys training new shooters. His main weapons are 9mm pistols and sarcasm.