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Fear not the night.
Fear that which walks the night.
And I am that which walks the night.
But, only evil need fear me….
And gentle souls sleep safe in their beds…
Because I walk the night.
– Lt. Col Dave Grossman
I want to share a story with you from my childhood. When I was 9 years old, I read a book called “The Mothman Prophecies” about a large creature that would swoop down at night and take people. I didn’t do well in the dark outside after that….for a while. At 9 years old, I was afraid of what walked the night; at 49, I still like a bright flashlight, but whatever evil walks the night should now fear me.
After being a law enforcement officer for 25 years, 17 of which I spent on the SWAT team, I have learned a couple of things about the dark because most of my career has been spent in the dark, clearing buildings, homes, and woods. I know from years of experience that lighting is the key to feeling secure at night. Knowing how to leverage light to your advantage is an important element of personal safety. Bad guys don’t like the light.
In your home at night, be aware of how light and your windows interact. During the daytime, the inside of your home is darker than the outside so you can see out, but people can’t see in. At night, the reverse is true. Walk outside at after dark and look back at your home. Can you see inside? Even though you can only see your reflection when you’re inside, someone could easily sit outside in the dark and watch you without you knowing. Turning on more lights inside won’t help; you’re giving everyone a free peek inside while you see nothing. The better solution is to turn on your outside lights and make the inside of your house dark, giving you the advantage. By the way, sheer curtains make this effect worse, not better.
If you hear something in your house, you’re better to keep the light off in the room you’re in and turn on the light in the room you want to see into. Step back into the shadows to protect yourself while looking into the lit area for information.
Your car windows have worse reflectivity than your home. At night, if you sit with your dome light on the whole world can see in, but you see nothing. Anyone can walk up to you and you won’t see them. Drive around with your headlights on and scan your area; don’t stay in the car long. If you need to sit, leave your headlights on, lock your doors and leave the engine running. Before you get out of the car, put the car in reverse for a moment or hit your brakes to illuminate anything behind the car so you can check your mirrors or backup camera. Have a flashlight handy.
Speaking of flashlights, you need one, and I don’t mean the ones with two D-cell batteries. I mean a good tactical light with a LED bulb. Find one that has 100 lumens (light intensity) or more and uses lithium batteries so they won’t die sitting on the shelf. Lithium batteries will sit for 10 years without dying or corroding – that’s what you want to have nearby. Tactical flashlights are generally aluminum or plastic, and the LED versions will provide bright light without killing the batteries too quickly. Some make good impact weapons and many have pocket clips on them so you can carry them anywhere.
If you go outside, take the flashlight and use it. It might be better to call 911 and wait, but you probably won’t call every time you hear a noise. When you use a flashlight, shine it in the dark shadows, or what we call “holes.” These are where threats might be. A bright flashlight in the eyes of a bad guy may give you a moment to escape because his eyes are adjusted to the dark. If he grabs you, hold the flashlight like a knife and pound him about the head and eyes until you can get away. The combination of aggression and bright light should have a profound effect.
One last pointer: when moving around a corner, stay as far back from that corner as possible. This gives you a reactionary gap — space between you and anyone who might be in the shadows trying to reach you. Whether this is a doorway or the hood of your car, use this distance to buy yourself some time. There is a whole series of free videos on low-light personal safety tactics on this website.
Stay safe and don’t let your kids read or watch anything with Mothman in the title. Own the night!
“A man’s home is his castle.” But what happens if you need to defend yourself in your castle – your home, car or hotel room?
Florida’s Castle Doctrine is located in Florida Statute 776.013 and states, in part, that a person is presumed to have acted defensively if he or she uses deadly force against someone who is presenting an imminent threat of great bodily harm or death while entering, having entered or trying to remove the person against his or her will from a home, vehicle or dwelling. Additionally, the person using or threatening to use defensive force must know or have reason to believe the unlawful and forcible entry or act was occurring or had occurred.
In plain language, you can use force to defend yourself against someone if these two criteria are met.
This law deals specifically with your home or any structure that is designed to accommodate people dwelling (sleeping) in it, whether temporary or permanent, mobile or otherwise. This could also apply to an occupied vehicle – not an empty car, but your car with you in it, anywhere.
The first requirement is that the person has to have entered the dwelling or occupied vehicle unlawfully and by force. For example, they could open the door without permission, or they could be attempting to pry open a window. You don’t have to wait till they get inside; there is a presumption they mean no good. You cannot, however, use force against someone who kicks down the door shouting, “Sheriff’s Office! Search Warrant!” There is a possibility that they may be entering your dwelling lawfully. Your lifestyle dictates the chances of that happening – hopefully, they are slim.
This law not only covers the act of illegal and forcible entry, but also the act of removing you against your will from your home, vehicle or other domicile. If someone opens your car door and tries to drag you out of the car, you can use deadly force to protect yourself, unless they are wearing a uniform.
Lastly, the person using defensive force has to believe the crime mentioned had or is occurring. For example, you don’t necessarily have to watch someone trying to get into your house unlawfully or by force – if you find them in your home already, you can probably take action.
“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
Now, play the “what if” game. What if you are in bed and hear a crash. You get up to check the house and find a drunk man getting a beer from your refrigerator. While you can legally use deadly force against this man, should you? Would returning to a safe location in your house and calling 911 be better? Let’s hypothesize that he turns around and starts to walk toward, yelling at you because he thinks you’re trespassing in HIS HOUSE. Maybe he’s your neighbor or your neighbor’s teenager. He may or may not be armed — how would this information affect your decision making process?
The key here is knowing what the law says is permissible and thinking through all of your options – not only what you can do, but what you should do. You have to use your own personal sense of morality and judgment, but you should take time to think about these scenarios before you need a quick solution. Your life and the lives of those around you could be dramatically affected, for better or for worse.
Over my 25-year career as a law enforcement officer, I have investigated many violent crimes, and I have taught personal safety at Talon Range since we opened. I also have more than two decades of experience as an instructor on the appropriate use of force, so the material I teach to my students comes from my experience on the streets and court system.
Understanding your personal safety options includes knowing what is legal in a given situation. There is a huge difference between what you can do and what you should do.
First, responding to a threat with force is seldom the best solution; you can usually walk away. However, if you decide the threat is imminent and retreat is not an option, having confidence in your legal standing could make a difference between taking decisive action to win a fight or making an uncertain effort and losing. Take the time to learn the nuances now because you won’t consider them when under stress.
Florida Statute 776.012 is the appropriate law for public conduct in public, and knowing it can help save you in a time of personal peril. The first section of this law has a fairly simple meaning: if you reasonably believe another person is going to touch you unlawfully, and that it will happen imminently, you can use a reasonable amount of force — based on the totality of the circumstances — to defend yourself from that unlawful action.
In other words, if someone walked up to you in a parking lot and threatened to punch you, you have no duty to retreat; you can use any force, short of force that might cause great bodily harm or kill the subject, to defend yourself. When they are no longer a threat, you have to stop the use of force.
The next part of the law says a person “is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.” There are two sections to consider – the use of deadly force to protect yourself or someone else from great bodily harm or death, and the use of deadly force to prevent a forcible felony from imminent occurrence.
The first section means that if someone threatens to unlawfully harm you and you reasonably believe this unlawful harm will cause your death or permanently injure you, you can use deadly force to defend yourself. You can also use force to defend another from that same unlawful act. This may sound straightforward, but it’s a little more complicated. For example, if the person threatening you is armed, an armed response would be appropriate. But what if they are much larger than you, seem to have strong fighting skills and threaten to beat you to death, while appearing to be on drugs? Based on the totality of circumstances, deadly force might be justified. You have to think about whether you can justify your actions to a jury, because you may have to.
The last section of this law is that you can use deadly force to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. So if someone is robbing someone (in person, not a burglary) or committing a sexual battery, a kidnapping or other forcible felony, you can defend yourself or the victim with deadly force. In these situations, what does deadly force mean? A gun? Something else? For example, if you are at an ATM and someone robs at gunpoint, do you defend yourself or give them money? It’s simple — most people will hand over the money, even if they don’t have to. But what if they ask for your keys? What if your 3-year-old child is in the car? Now it’s not so simple.
This is why it’s so important to play the “what if” game; think ahead, consider your options and know the law. And remember, this law is not the same as the “Castle Doctrine,” which deals with your home, dwelling or occupied vehicle. This is nasty business, but reality can be nasty sometimes. Preparation and awareness of your options, especially your legal options, could make the difference between significant injury or walking away from a threat unharmed.
Do you have to be the victim of the forcible felony, or could you use deadly force to prevent it from happening to someone else?
In my last article, I spoke about the importance of situational awareness and the color codes of awareness – white, orange, red and black. As simple as that was, it is the first step on the path towards not being a victim. This article is on the next step – posturing.
The concept of posturing is common among mammals. If you watch males compete in the animal kingdom for the females’ attention, you see colorful feathers, dances, wrestling and fights. In the human race, we see the same thing. An attractive woman walks by and a man rises to his full height, gut in, chest out. He’s posturing, projecting confidence.
As the predators in our society lurk around the edges of the herd, they size up the flock, just like a wolf. Bad guys watch us. They decide who they will prey upon based on how easy the target appears to be. If your posture projects confidence that you are not an easy target and the next person is more passive, they are the likely victim. At Talon, we’ve trained more 5,000 locals and overwhelmingly, the feedback we have received is that this works.
Bad guys know if a victim can readily identify them to law enforcement, they’re in trouble. If there’s no ID, they may be ok. If you look a stranger in the eye with confidence, they know you’ve seen them and are not afraid, whether you are or not. Your chances of being a victim decrease drastically as your confidence increases. If you’re afraid to make eye contact with people, you can’t identify them. Therefore, your passive appearance increases your chances of being a victim.
When you encounter a person you don’t know, scan their face and see if they’ll make eye contact. Most people won’t, but bad guys will for a moment. (Nice people will too, so be ready to nod, smile and speak.) Make a conscious effort to walk erect with your chin up and eyes towards those you encounter. Have a confident stride and appear to have a purpose. If someone makes you uncomfortable, look at them a bit longer. If this is the predator, he will realize you’re not the passive victim he‘s looking for. The only outward difference between confident people and passive people are actions. You can change actions. Change yours.
Think about the last time you were approached by someone asking for money. This can be intimidating, uncomfortable and alienating, all terrible feelings. Now consider using proper posturing for future encounters. First, make eye contact and hold out a hand in a “stop” motion. Speak to them politely, saying “I’m sorry sir, but I don’t have anything for you. Now have a nice day.” Use a command voice, firm but polite. Then walk away, engaging your situational awareness by watching out of the corner of your eye and listening for following footsteps.
If you do want to help the person, don’t dig out your cash right there. Go inside the store and take out what you are willing to give, holding it in your hand and giving it on the way out. Chances are, they will still be there.
Many of our clients have come to us as timid wallflowers and after a few classes, they leave standing tall. If you are willing to change your behavior, become more aware of your surroundings and start to really look at people, the results might surprise you. This may open doors for you that you never think about. You’ll begin to feel the confidence that you are pretending to have. Do you know who acts this way? Leaders, not victims.