*This is the second article in a three-part series about keeping little ones safe while protecting your family. Click below to get the FREE full-color, printable PDF!
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3) Consider In-Home and Out-Of-Home Protection & Safety
On July 21, 2015, around 10:30 p.m., a young couple was walking back to their home with their 1-month-old son after visiting a neighborhood friend. As they pushed the stroller along, a dark sedan drove past and stopped about 10 yards ahead of them. Two men jumped out and pointed guns at the man and his wife, demanding that they get on the ground. Scared for their lives, the couple cooperated with their attackers, begging for them not to harm their child. Then one of the men grabbed the diaper bag from the stroller, knocking it — and their newborn son — to the pavement. The two men bolted. Thankfully, the baby and his parents were uninjured, but the couple was quite shaken by the alarming encounter.
Did these parents do the right thing?
A few years earlier on Nov. 10, 2010, another young couple encountered a frightening experience at a gas station parking lot. As the couple stopped at a Phillips 66 for a stretch break and for a quick chat with relatives who were traveling with them in separate vehicles, a man jumped into the driver’s seat of their running car. Their 6-month-old daughter was in the back seat.
There was no way this mom and dad were going to let a carjacker drive off with their child. They knew that if they couldn’t stop the vehicle immediately, they might never see their baby girl again. Using all of her strength and a push from her husband, the mother broke the passenger-side window. As she was being dragged away by the moving car, her husband jumped through the shattered window and started kicking the carjacker as hard as he could. The criminal finally gave in, exited the vehicle and ran off. Except for some bumps and bruises, the parents were not seriously injured, and their daughter, though scared and crying, was safe and unharmed.
Did these parents do the right thing?
No matter what your answers are regarding the actions of these two couples, for both sets of parents, these incidents were terrifying wake-up calls. Even in our own communities or with our own families, we can still become victims of crimes. And these families’ negative experiences, though positive in outcome, can serve as powerful testaments to the enormous strength of parents’ love for their children. These offenses can also serve as cautionary tales for those of us who carry concealed firearms for protecting our loved ones.
Clearly, there is no way to predict when, where or how a crime may occur, and there is no way to calculate the best course of action for every situation. But the goal for parents in any of these circumstances (whether in our own homes or out and about in our communities) is always the same: to protect our children. So outside of a quick course in Brazilian Jujitsu or the liberal application of body armor, how do we keep ourselves and our families safe in violent encounters? It’s important to take some extra precautions and to put in some extra thought.
Prepare Mentally as a Family
Neither of the couples from these stories had firearms with them at the times of the incidents. And a good guy or gal with a gun may have completely changed the game. Even so, the No. 1 priority if a child or children are involved in an attack is to make sure that they are safe. In some cases, depending on the ages of the children and the situation itself, that might mean not unholstering or using a weapon. There are so many variables involved that there is no way to present a right answer.
Even so, for any parent with a gun, it’s important to think through what you would do to protect your family right here and now — before anything happens. This mental preparation may involve making choices to avoid potentially dangerous situations altogether. It could mean checking and double-checking your surroundings before leaving a building or even your home. It could mean making extra phone calls, taking a different route or leaving a situation that makes you uncomfortable.
Just always keep your guard up. Don’t let life’s distractions prevent you from possibly spotting or eluding a problem before it befalls you. You must make a conscious commitment to ensure your family is safe at all times and make a firm decision to do whatever is necessary to stop any threat against it.
Act Quickly and Efficiently
Even though it is impossible to map out a safety plan for your family from start to finish, no matter what happens, you should always be prepared to act immediately and resourcefully. For this, you can take some cues from nature. George Harris, president and CEO of International Firearms Consultants, mentions that parents can depend on their natural instincts for a purist form of preservation. He states, “Look at it from this simple perspective: Preserve your little ones and yourself using whatever methods you can.”
Some of these quick-thinking, fast-acting methods can be observed in wildlife. If you’ve ever witnessed animals in danger, you may have seen the youngsters scatter. Or you may have watched them quickly move to find cover and hide. Meanwhile, the mom or dad leads the predator away and fights off the attacker. Those are some of the basic methods and instincts.
Luckily, we can also add in all the human advantages. “Consider all the mechanical devices and tools we have available to us that animals don’t, and then factor in all the other things we can use for self-defense,” Harris says. And be sure to act immediately with whatever tools you have — be it a purse, stick, hands, legs or firearms. Use whatever means you have, both physical and psychological, to fight back. And don’t ever trust an aggressor. If you have kids with you in a vehicle, it may very well be the time to push the gas pedal and run into or over something or someone.
You can also use one of nature’s best and most effective deceptions: feigning compliance as a distraction:
Be like the momma grouse who flops about on the ground as if she has a broken wing and is pleading for her attacker not to hurt her. Break the mindset of the attacker, if even briefly, in order to gain the advantage. Then get out of there or do what you must do. Just do it quickly. Timing is everything.
I know that as a mother, my first instinct when my children are in danger is to grab them and pull them in close to me. That would work perfectly to help them with a boo-boo, to calm them during a storm or to get them away from a scary animal. But it is a terrible idea if someone is coming at you with a weapon.
While it may feel like you are doing the wrong thing, you may have to push your baby’s stroller behind a wall or set down that infant carrier by a tree and run in the other direction. In some cases, your precious cargo may be safer left in a car or hidden in a nearby building. Just don’t pull your children into you or try to hide them behind you while you are attempting to defend yourself unless that is your only option.
You might think that you are acting like a shield, but it’s best for them to get away from you and to get to safety as quickly as possible. This protects them and you on several levels. Your children will not witness the event, and they will not be in the line of fire. In addition, you will not have to worry about or be distracted by little ones around your feet or behind your back if you need to draw or use your firearm to stop the threat.
Besides mentally preparing yourself, in order to plan ahead, you should do as much talking and training with your kids as possible. Talk to them about situational awareness, about being observant and safe, and about being an extra set of eyes and ears for you as you go about your everyday lives.
Of course, what you talk about and how you train will depend on a variety of issues, such as how old your children are, what they comprehend and how disciplined they might be. But you can come up with a trigger word or code word that they can recognize as a time to either give you their immediate attention or to take specific action. Practice your chosen word to get them in the habit of following orders closely. Plan ahead so that when your kids hear this special alert, they know that they need to run away from danger — to go to where the bad people aren’t — and to keep going until they find someone, such as a police officer, a firefighter, a person of authority, a store worker or a trustworthy friend or family member, to help.
You can also teach your family about cover and concealment, meaning which materials protect them from bullets and which ones don’t. Should you ever have to draw your gun, you can use your alert word and instruct your family to get away from you and call the police. But if they are not able to get away, teach them to get behind cover and to continuously look for possible exits, better cover and opportunities to escape. This will generally be teaching older kids to carry, guide or help the little ones.
Teach your children to yell, scream, punch, kick, hit or do whatever is necessary if they can’t get away from an aggressor. If the kids are old enough, they can take self-defense classes or participate in martial-arts training. You can also talk to them about looking for weak or sensitive spots. Examples include poking a bad guy in the eyes; punching or kicking him in the nose, throat, solar plexus or stomach; or hitting him in the knees, ankles, wrists and other joints.
Whatever you do, be sure to explain to your children that you give them special permission to not be polite, quiet or nice in a violent encounter and that they can do whatever they need to do to get away. Make sure that they understand that it’s OK to say “no” and to run away from dangerous or uncomfortable situations and find help.
In many scenarios, when people forcefully, purposefully and immediately fight back, their attackers are taken by surprise. They may realize that they have much more to deal with than they bargained for. That temporary disability or distraction may be the deciding point for them to back off or go away, or it may be the break you need to draw your firearm and protect your loved ones.
Set Expectations for the Family
If you haven’t prepared your family for what may happen before, during and after a self-defense shooting, you may be in for a rude awakening. So … what can you expect to happen, and how can you prepare your family for the aftermath of a violent encounter?
According to Barry and Lara Alvis of the Law Firm of Alvis and Alvis, LLC, in Birmingham, Alabama, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. And, unfortunately, you may have scarcer options and fewer rights than you may have thought.
“A self-defense shooting is such a fluid situation,” Barry stated. “So there’s not a ‘right’ answer for what you should tell your family. There are too many factors involved, from the child’s age and whether he or she was a witness to the facts of the shooting and all the details about the people involved.”
Still, while all these aspects will come into play for each unique case, there are some general ideas of what you can expect, as described by this top team of lawyers. For example, law enforcement officials can question your children whenever they want, wherever they want, even without your permission or presence. Barry explained, “Your child could be put into a squad car and taken to the police station. And they may ask things like, ‘What did you see or hear? What did the bad guy say? What did daddy or mommy say? How many shots did you hear? What happened after the shooting? Did someone call 911?’”
Even if no one in your family was a witness at the scene, the police can come to your house and question your entire family if they think there is any relevant testimony. They do not even need a warrant. Lara explained, “Basically, if your child is a witness, or if the police decide to investigate something, you are powerless to deny them access to your children. Your kids will have to tell them what happened. And law enforcement officials will have not violated any law by approaching minors without parental permission. Of course, I’d personally tell the police that I’ll cooperate fully, but I don’t want my children to go through this right now. I’d ask for the chance to bring the children to them at a later time. The problem is, once you ask for more time, they’ll think that your children have been coached.”
Barry added, “It’s a tough situation all around. Investigators can sweet-talk your children, give them toys and even lie to them about what you’ve said or done. They can try to pressure your children to dig up dirt and paint a bad picture of you. And they can use all that information against you.”
In addition, it’s possible that DHR and child protective services may step in during the process, and legally, you have no right to stop any of it. Your child can also be called to testify in court. A judge can deem a child a credible witness if he or she can answer five to six basic questions. Barry, who once had to cross-examine a 5-year-old witness, explained that they don’t get into abstract concepts. “All it could take is something like: ‘This book is red. Is that a truth or a lie?’ And they’re in.”
It seems preposterous that a kindergartner could be expected to not only testify in court but also remember all of the details over the long period of time before a trial occurs. That kind of pressure would make any age group uncomfortable. Granted, no one wants a child to suffer, and the court will keep the child’s best interest in mind. But as Lara mentioned, even child psychologists will assert that “trauma remains in the brain,” and they will definitely question children in the courtroom.
Now that you know some of the uncomfortable truths, I’m sure you’re asking if there’s anything at all you can do to protect your family under such a situation. You don’t want to come across as being overzealous, but it’s not in anyone’s best interest to hit the other end of the spectrum and do little or nothing at all. So what is the right balance for advance planning and after-incident action? Barry and Lara shared five important pieces of advice:
- Educate yourself. Learn the rules in your state and learn your rights. Train, go to classes, be competent with your firearm and learn how and when you can legally use deadly force.
- Educate your children. Teach your children the basic rules of gun safety. Just keep it simple when they’re little. Talk to them more seriously when they’re old enough to understand. Lara added, “If your kids respond under pressure that mommy and daddy always taught them to stay away from firearms, then that’s not a bad thing.”
- Get financial and legal protection. Barry acknowledged that one of the main challenges with a self-defense shooting is the cost involved. “Personally, I joined the USCCA, even though I am a defense lawyer and this is what I do for living. I know how expensive this can be, and I want to be prepared.” You should also educate your family about the details of the program and even give each of them a copy of the Self-Defense SHIELD card so that they know what you’ve planned and what steps you are likely to take.
- Research and find a lawyer. A good defense lawyer can protect you and even do some damage control. “Look for someone who’s familiar with trying cases and preferably has a thorough, working knowledge of firearms,” Barry said. “You may even need to consider a lawyer for other family members if they were involved or were witnesses to the shooting. They may not be able to invoke any rights, but a skilled lawyer will be able to help guide and protect your family throughout the process.”
- Be a responsible gun owner. The best way to plan ahead and to protect your family is to be safe and responsible now. Always follow the safety rules. “And be careful what you say and do — even on social media,” Barry mentioned. “People are watching, and these kinds of things can be used against you. Actions may speak louder than words, but your words can certainly count too.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to violent encounters, there are no right or wrong answers except to do what you need to do to stop the threat and to keep your family safe. But taking precautions now can help protect you and your children in unpredictable circumstances. Use your best judgment and experience, do what’s right for your situation and have a course of action for you and your family in place in the event of an unsafe situation.
As Lara so aptly put it, “Ultimately, you just need to teach your children to tell the truth.” That may sound scary, but it could be worse if your child boldly proclaims that he or she is not allowed to talk to the police. You don’t want it to sound like you’ve spent years planning a shooting. You want it to sound like you’ve spent years being a responsible gun owner and a responsible parent.
About Beth Alcazar
Author of Women’s Handgun & Self-Defense Fundamentals, associate editor of Concealed Carry Magazine and creator of the Pacifiers & Peacemakers column, Beth Alcazar has enjoyed nearly two decades of teaching and working in the firearms industry. She holds degrees in language arts, education and communication management and uses her experience and enthusiasm to share safe and responsible firearms ownership and usage with others. Beth is certified through the NRA as a Training Counselor, Chief Range Safety Officer and Certified Instructor for multiple disciplines. She is also a Certified Instructor through SIG Sauer Academy, ALICE Institute, DRAW School, TWAW and I.C.E. Training and is a USCCA Certified Instructor and Senior Training Counselor.