The Guardian Broadcast
"Providing Concealed Carry & Armed Self-Defense Wisdom."
"Should the Elderly Carry Concealed?"
Is the sheepdog role a fleeting one? Should we ever lay down our swords and surrender our warrior mentality? These are some of the deepest, most intriguing questions we can ask, and it unearths one of the biggest reasons for our efforts as sheepdogs.
This week, I want to address a question about concealed carry that I get often. This is a question – or objection, rather – that I can tell really gnaws at some peoples’ confidence and motivation to become confident and competent guardians. The question is: “Pat, am I just too dang old for this?”
I've gotten this question from people in their 70s or 80s, and I've gotten it in other forms from people with disabilities. A lot of time, the question goes something like this:
“My knees are about shot, so combining movement with drawing and firing would be very difficult, except my bad hip makes it just about impossible. I’ve got arthritic fingers, an arthritic back, I can’t extend my elbows for a full shooting stance… and don’t get me started on what my eyes and bifocals do to my shooting form! Now Pat, be honest with me. Is being a Guardian, or even a Warrior, a young man’s game?”
So, let me address this question. First of all, I can empathize! While I’m not exactly qualified to speak on age yet, I’ve watched a few relatives climb through the years, and eventually fall off the other side. It’s a humbling process that we’re all going to go through, and someday I’ll be able to relate a whole lot better than I can right now. But I always seemed to gravitate toward older people anyway. As a young boy, I was so fortunate to have a neighbor named Joe Riley. He was a giant of a man: tall, broad shoulders, even in his 70s. But he was a Word War II Vet. Even back then, I was an avid reader, and I asked him, like any dumb kid: “What did you do in the war? Did you kill anyone?” Early on, he would tell me, “No, Pat, I was an ammunition passer. I never killed anyone.” But later on, he opened up a lot more. Those summer days when school was out, I’d be heading out back to shoot my BB gun, and he’d invariably be sitting outside his garage, in a lawn chair, drinking beer. He always had a beer in his hand, but he was never drunk. If he stood up and set up another lawn chair as I made my way out back, I knew he wanted company. I’d head over, and hear about age, and aging, and hunting, and fishing, and the war. But there were many days when he wanted to be alone, and rather than set up another lawn chair, he’d raise his beer and nod his head to me as I walked by.
But I learned from him and from many others since then just how humbling age can be. I’ve always tended to see life as a process, and our time here on earth as a proving ground – a place where we are tested to see, perhaps to what degree, we’re worthy of what comes next. And in so many often painful ways here in life, it’s as if this system was designed to provide reminders here and there that life is temporary! This existence here isn’t what it’s about, so don’t get attached, and don’t even get comfortable! Age is just about the most crystal clear. It reminds me of the Voyager 2 spacecraft, zinging along out there, something like 12 billion miles away from earth. Every couple years, its power generators get too weak to support all its original equipment, so they’re slowly shutting its sensors and instruments down, one at a time. That’s sort of what happens to our bodies – IF everything goes well! And obviously, these instruments are things that greatly assist us in our desires to be active, fast-moving Guardians, so losing them is disappointing, whether that be our knees, or our hips, or our eyes, or anything else.
But, there’s some very good news in all this. I’ve got a basic bit of good news, some very motivating news, and then I’ve got some deeper, more CCU style good news about surviving a lethal attack.
The basic-but-great news is this: Pushing toward becoming or remaining an effective Guardian in spite of age and disability will make you feel younger, and it will keep your body younger and healthier. You see, my wife and I usually have an audio-book going that we can listen to in the car, when our kids fall asleep. Right now, we’re listening to Dick Van Dyke’s book from last year, Keep Moving. And as a very active and essentially healthy 90 year old, he gives some great advice that I’ve seen confirmed from many other people: KEEP MOVING. The more you move and use your body, within reason, the longer your body will stay useful and effective. And seeing Dick Van Dyke dance at age 90 makes it clear that he certainly could do pretty well with regard to moving and shooting.
Not everyone is going to have that sort of constitution. But Van Dyke was told while only in his 40s that he had arthritis so bad, he’d end his life as a cripple in a wheelchair. He’s defied that, and I believe being and staying active had a lot to do with that. Now, being and staying active gets harder as we age, physically and psychologically. The amount of motivation we need to get up and active increases every year. But what better motivation is there to get and stay active, than the idea of remaining an asset to your family? Or perhaps even more powerfully, is the motivation to retain a bit of your razor edge. Do you know what I mean? Because by the time you’re getting old, hopefully you’ve seen your kids leave your protective realm and enter the world, and in general, hopefully you feel successful. And if so, then one could argue that you already did your job as a Guardian – you protected your family through their most vulnerable years – mission accomplished.
But to counter that, is one of the most stinging things that I can remember from a movie that came out a few years ago, Act of Valor. Toward the end, the narrator says, “One of the worst things about getting old is that other men stop seeing you as being dangerous.”
Now, some people could read way too far into that. “Why on earth do you want to be seen as dangerous, that’s not good!” But if you’re here, I think you can understand the significance and truth in this statement, as I can. Because there’s something intrinsically connected to what it means to be a man, and being powerful. And, not to exclude the many women who I know are listening to or reading this right now: to be powerful is human. But I don’t believe our lady sheepdogs will be quite as psychologically affected by the loss of strength and ability as will the men. Not to mention, rather than hold age in the highest level of respect as a healthy culture would do, our present culture is increasingly trying to sideline age. Age is going the way Virtue went. And in that regard, I can think of no better way to offset the decreasing effectiveness of our bodies than to begin going armed with more and more regularity. Perhaps this is a shallow, barbaric way to look at the world. But I think the opposite is true – I think it’s fantastic. After all, Thomas Jefferson didn’t advise carrying a handgun as being some of the best mental exercise available for no reason – and I agree with him.
So in short: Staying active will keep you young. Use the desire to remain an active, respected force in the world as your motivation to retain or create your guardian skills. That was the simple good news. Next, is the motivating news:
The sad fact of reality is that the older you get, the more likely it is that you will need to defend yourself! You see, the vast majority of crime in this country is committed by young men. And, it always will be. What I mean is, criminals don't age! Because when an individual criminal lives a life of crime for long enough, they either get busted and end up doing life in prison, or they get killed or injured, or some few might manage to sense their vulnerability before crime kills them, and they "retire". But the criminal element is constantly being replenished by new young men every year. And it always will be. And so, every year older you get, there's another year between you and the person who is most likely to attack you. In other words, if you are attacked when you are 19, you are most likely to be attacked by a 17, 18, 19, or 20-year-old. But if you're attacked when you're 79, the same thing is true! It's probably going to be a teenager or 20-year-old who attacks you.
This is the never-changing nature of sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. And as you already know, wolves don't go after the biggest, strongest sheepdog they can – and they don't go after the strongest and healthiest sheep in the bunch. They always choose the easiest target – and if we are lucky enough to live into old age, eventually we WILL be lumped in that group of targets that are easy. Just by looking old.
What does that mean for us? It means we have to double down as we age. The older we get, the more aware of our surroundings we have to be, the better we have to get at avoiding violence, and the more prepared to defend ourselves we have to get.
So that’s the motivating news. Now I’d like to give you the last point that I wanted to deliver today. This is the Concealed Carry University Style analytical, psychological, social-conflict-dynamic perspective on the matter of aging and concealed carry:
Please think back to my “Scales Analogy” for effective self-defense. This is where we look at the way a violent attacker analyzes and selects his victim based on two things: Expected Gain versus Perceived Risk. It’s simply risk versus reward. If the perceived risk outweighs the expected gain, the criminal won’t attack. If the expected gain outweighs the perceived risk, he may attack.
Now as a side note, we must remember that the scales analogy is a fluid concept that changes by the second, in sync with your OODA awareness cycles and your threat’s OODA awareness cycles. And so literally, the risk could outweigh the reward right now, now, now, now – but the moment you turn your back to grab your door handle, the Expected Gain might suddenly outweigh the risk for a moment, which might spark an attack.
The other note is that, of course, your attacker isn’t aware of this scale analogy. Most likely he isn’t actively thinking about any of the hundreds of factors that contribute to Perceived Risk, such as escape route, lighting, time of day, witnesses, cameras, noise echo potential, victim build, victim awareness, victim size, and on and on. He’s not aware of this, like so much else in psychology – but he absolutely IS driven by it. This risk-to-reward calculation is something that happens automatically in his mind, as in the mind of any other predator on earth, such as a shark or a lion.
But here’s the thing: Even after an attack is initiated, your attacker is STILL operating with a continued Expected Gain versus Perceived Risk calculation running constantly in his head, with every beat of his heart and pulse of blood through his brain. And ALL YOU HAVE TO DO to disengage his attack and WIN the fight is to INCREASE his Perceived Risk above and beyond the Gain that he expects.
And doing this is not as hard as you’d imagine, because of the wonderful rhetorical truth of dealing with ANY common criminal: he is NEVER going into a confrontation with as much to lose as you are. You see, all your attacker stands to possibly gain is what he’s after. Perhaps your phone, your money, or your car – or if you’re a female, perhaps your body. That’s all he stands to gain. But what YOU stand to lose is your entire life. The one thing that makes the resources you have – money, cars, houses, your body – worth anything at all to you. Without your life, you have nothing. And so, your attacker is almost by definition NEVER coming to the table with more than 90% commitment. He has to keep an escape route open, and he has to continue, with every second, to devote mental energy to evaluating whether this attack is STILL worth all that he stands to lose. But you: YOU have the opportunity and justification to respond with 100% commitment, because unless you trust in the charity of someone whose actions prove a complete LACK of charity, you DO NOT likely have the option of surrendering.
And so, this gives you a window that will be open for 2 or 3 seconds from the moment the attack opens – a window of opportunity to respond with EXPLOSIVE force, achieving several things in as few as 1.5 or 2.5 seconds:
> You will instantly jam the PERCEIVED RISK side of the scale down to the floor, as the idea of “jail time” becomes the least of your attacker’s concerns.
> You will lock up your attacker’s OODA loop as you gain the initiative, changing your role from the one reactor to reactEE. In other words, you win combat initiative: rather than your attacker being in control, your explosive response has put YOU in control. And remember: explosive offense IS the way to defend yourself. If you stay on the defense, you will eventually lose. Only on the offensive is a fight ever won.
> And finally, the moment the combat initiative shifts to your side, combat momentum begins building in your favor. The longer you stay on the offense, the more momentum builds on your side. If you can hold the initiative for several consecutive seconds, you will almost definitely send your opponent into an utter panic. Not that any conscious thought will be going through his head within this span of time (maybe 1.5-3 seconds is all we’re talking about here), but if it were, it would sound something like, “Okay, here goes, I’m going to get an iPhone, a watch, and hopefully some cash. Hey! Give me your f---ing; OH, WOAH, WOAH, WOAH, CRAP! CRAP! CRAP!”
This is why 95% of defensive fights are settled psychologically (where your attacker CHOOSES to disengage BEFORE he is physically disabled to the point of no longer being ABLE to fight): because the fact is, few criminals or predators would trade ONE score or ONE experience for their lives.
You see, IF you’re attacked, we can always know one thing for sure: Unless you’re being attacked by someone with a suicide mission, then your attacker THOUGHT he could get what he wanted from you, AND get away. But the moment you put that reality in jeopardy, is the moment the above 3-point chain-reaction begins in his head.
[As a side note, we must always follow up an explosive reaction with a continued attack of, ideally, increasing intensity. Because, not only may the criminal stick with the attack if he re-gains the initiative, but your explosive defense might actually push HIM (his subconscious) into believing that fighting is HIS best means of survival, and in that way, it COULD become a fight to the death/disabled. However, reviewing hundreds of fights show that most of the time, the attacker simply disengaged and fled.]
As a refresher, what does an explosive response and continued “initiative-maintaining” defense look like? Draw, movement (to cover or distance), fire the instant your handgun is pointed at your attacker, fire all the while moving to cover or distance, and continue seeking to land shot after shot on target until it is clear that your attacker has either disengaged or has become disabled. This is another reason why carrying a weapon with enough ammunition, capable of offering a sustained Combat-Time of at least 3 seconds is critical. When you hit slide-lock, momentum instantly stops building in your direction, and 1.5 or 2 seconds of combined combat momentum in your favor can evaporate in less time than that.
My GLOCK 17 should give me about 3.5 seconds of combat time per 17rnd magazine when I’m firing as fast as I can. Keep that in mind: anything less than 17 rounds is going to be less and less than that. Part of my recommendation to stick to 10 rounds or more is based on this maco-concept of the Scales Analogy, as much as the extremely practical consideration of combat-hit/miss-ratios, and how many rounds a trained person needs to fire in order to achieve a hit. You see, while you will probably/statistically (though I hope YOU do better!) miss 2 shots for every 1 you land, the fact is that it will be entirely possible for you to empty a 6 or 7 round magazine at your attacker before he’s even mechanically had a chance for reaction-panic to set in! So, it’s another reason to outfit yourself with at least 2 or 2.5 seconds of combat time, at a minimum.
Now, bringing all this back into self-defense for the elderly, how is any of this relevant specifically to you?
In the same way we can KNOW that IF you’re attacked by anyone who isn’t suicidal then your attacker THOUGHT he could get what he wanted from you, AND get away… we can KNOW that IF you’re attacked as an elderly-looking individual, then your attacker chose you specifically because he wanted an especially easy target. And so – and this is key, here, this is the lesson I want to get across – the initial amount of resistance you (as an elderly person) must provide in order to WIN initiative and ultimately cause your attacker to disengage will be LESS than if I am attacked, as a young, healthy, fit male.
Do you see what I mean? IF your attacker chose you because you looked frail, then you don’t necessarily NEED to be able to move and shoot like I can in order to cause your attacker to subconsciously decide, NOT WORTH IT! Case in point? The fact that an 85 year old lady can thwart an attempted robbery by beating a 220lb man with a cane. If I tried that, they’d be picking cane pieces out of my shattered eye sockets for weeks, because if I’m attacked, the attacker expected some level of resistance – probably more than a swinging stick. And, I’ll have to overcome that expectation with an even greater level of resistance to cause him to disengage. But as an elderly person, that initial level of expected/allowed resistance will be a lot lower.
And that should be very encouraging to you. Now, it’s of course not a license to shirk training or practice – but it IS permission to be reasonable, and to simply do the best you can in your self-defense preparation.
In closing, I’ll add one more thing. This is something I don’t know the answer to. At what age do you stop carrying? Obviously, like driving, you’ve got to be competent or you’re more of a risk to others than your ability to remain sovereign is worth. That’s going to happen to you, and it’s going to happen to me, IF we’re lucky enough to live that long. But when do we lay down the sword? That, I don’t know. I can tell you that it’s going to be very difficult for me, if or when that time comes. That’s something we’ll have to explore later on.