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on security

Mar 5, 2015 | 08:50 GMT

What is Your Best Weapon?

VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor
Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor
(Stratfor)

By Scott Stewart

Last week, I was in northern Uganda where I had the opportunity to talk with some people about the security issues they are facing in their country, South Sudan and the surrounding region. As is often the case when people are talking to someone in my line of work and with my background, the conversation shifted to weapons. I am often asked questions such as "what is the best weapon for home defense," or "what is the best weapon for when I am traveling?" Invariably, I always answer them with the same response: Your brain. Now, let me explain why.

First Things First

Before anyone goes off on a rant and accuses me of being anti-gun, let me establish that I am an avid hunter, target shooter and a trained firearms instructor. I have nothing against guns. I own many of them, and now that I am a civilian, I have obtained a concealed carry permit and carry my firearm where and when I can do so legally.

Having said that, I must also point out that merely being armed will not protect a person from a criminal. Being armed may even be the sole reason a person becomes a target in a case where an attacker knows they are armed and wants to steal their weapon. In places like the Philippines, for example, New People's Army "sparrow" units specifically target armed people for murder to steal their guns in what they call "agaw-armas," or "arms grabbing" operations.

Being armed can also provide some people with a false sense of security. They believe that because they are armed, they are invulnerable and do not need to practice good situational awareness. If they are caught off guard by a criminal and cannot get to their weapon, it becomes pretty much worthless to them, and they might as well not have brought it.

Even an armed individual needs to rely primarily on his or her most important weapons system — the brain. If the brain is properly engaged and a person has the proper mindset, practices good situational awareness and recognizes a problem while it is still developing, they put themselves in a much better position to effectively deploy and employ their body, knife, gun or whatever secondary weapon they have access to. If the brain is not effectively engaged, a person is left relying on luck, happenstance and the ineptitude of the criminals — and these are not things prudent people should trust their lives to.

The Brain is an Amazing Thing

The first important function the brain serves is providing a person with the proper mindset. Reaching this mindset begins with realizing there are bad people in the world who want to hurt others. Sadly, there are many people who live in denial of this fact — and denial is deadly.

Second, once individuals accept that the threats are real, they must then come to grips with the fact that they are the primary actors responsible for their own security. Too many people mistakenly believe that security is something for which only police and security forces are responsible. The truth is, governments cannot protect everyone and everything from every potential threat. They simply lack the resources to do so. Even authoritarian regimes have proven incapable of protecting everything. People must take responsibility and do their part to keep themselves, their families and their homes safe. Of course, understanding this fact is a little easier for someone living in a place like South Sudan than it is for someone living in South Beach, but the level of responsibility is the same.

The final element of proper mindset is having the willingness and discipline to employ security techniques such as situational awareness and security tools, including weapons. Remember, common sense security and proper situational awareness are not just things a government agent or a trained security officer can practice — anyone can if they have the discipline. I also strongly believe that a person who is not willing to use a firearm or other weapon should not carry one merely in the hopes of using it to threaten a criminal. In such cases, their weapons are frequently turned against them, essentially arming the criminals.

Once a person has decided they will use a weapon if necessary, their brain can help guide them tactically to know when to engage and when to withdraw. It is also determines how they will employ their weapon — whether they will deliberately aim their fire to make it effective, or if they will just spray and pray. It will even help warn them when they are running low on ammunition, and help them determine what to do next when they have run out of ammunition and their firearm becomes nothing more than a metal cudgel. The brain is the real weapon, and a firearm is merely a tool the brain utilizes in a specific situation.

Another critical function the brain performs is providing a person with the will to fight on and survive, even after they have been wounded. But a person is far better off if they can utilize their brain before a situation gets to the point where deadly force is needed. Thus understanding one's environment and maintaining situational awareness are critical.

By understanding the types of crimes that occur in an area — and how they occur — a person can assess their vulnerability to such threats and will be able to see them developing if they are practicing an appropriate level of situational awareness. Seeing a problem while it is still developing and avoiding it is better than having to react to a problem that comes as a surprise. Action is faster than reaction.

Location, Location, Location

It is also important to recognize that there are simply some places where one cannot carry a firearm, knife or other obvious weapon. Such places include secure areas like government buildings, commercial aircraft, some workplaces and cities or countries with laws restricting the possession of weapons.

In such situations, it is especially important for people to utilize their brain, using it to look for developing problems and to mentally catalog safe places and exit routes as they go about their daily routines. They should take note of things like a bank or government building with heavily armed security officers they can dart into if a criminal is following them. Obviously, people should avoid obsessive paranoia. Moreover, in some situations such as an anti-government protest, seeking refuge in a government building may be a bad idea. Safe places need to be appropriate for the environment and situation.

But even in a restrictive environment, if a person has the proper mindset, their brain can help them find not-so-obvious weapons for use when confronted by an imminent threat. Items like a vehicle, flashlight, pen, hotel room lamp, fire extinguisher or a computer's power supply can serve as improvised weapons. The possibilities are nearly limitless if a person's brain is focused properly and working as their most effective weapon. But even then, it is better if they can utilize their brain to recognize and avoid a dangerous situation before it escalates.

Scott Stewart supervises Stratfor's analysis of terrorism and security issues. Before joining Stratfor, he was a special agent with the U.S. State Department for 10 years and was involved in hundreds of terrorism investigations.
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