Carrying a Firearm & Psychological Consequences

The Psychological Consequences of Armed Carry

By GunsmithG

Before I delve more into the nuts and bolts of armed carry for the novice handgunner, there is a subject that needs serious thought before we go any further. This is the psychological effects of a shooting, the physical response of the "Fight or Flight" reflex, and the personal and emotional toll that being in a life or death situation can bring, and the possible legal ramifications of a shooting and what it may bring.

Let's start by discussing the states of awareness that a person operates under.

  1. Condition White: This is the most relaxed condition. You are safe in your home or at a friends or relatives. There is very little that could threaten you or your loved ones. You have no expectation of any violence.
  2. Condition Yellow: You are outside of your "safe area", in a public area, but there is no real expectation of a threat. You observe those around you with attention, scanning for anything that seems out of place.
  3. Condition Orange: You are outside of your comfort area, no real signs of a threat, but you have increased awareness of the people and things around you. Something may have seemed unusual, so you are in a state of heightened awareness. Sometimes this may be just that funny feeling, something telling you that something isn't as it should be.
  4. Condition Red: You perceive a threat or threats to yourself and or the people you are with. You mentally prepare for immediate response to either retreat, secure yourself and others, or to take action to eliminate the threat.
  5. Condition Red Action Required: This is when you have to make your decision, to flee if possible, to stand your ground, or to take immediate action to remove the threat. Let's think about consequences of carrying a firearm. You literally have the power of life or death under your control. This is something not to be taken lightly. By carrying a firearm, you are accepting that you may need to take someones life to safeguard your own or others lives. Anyone who doesn't think long and hard upon accepting that responsibility probably shouldn't be carrying a gun. You should always be aware of your circumstance and surroundings. Purposely going into high risk areas for no good reason while armed can hurt you if you have to go on trial later.

OK, let's take a look to what happens in the body when the "Fight Or Flight" reflex occurs. As you recognize the threat, your mind tells your body that you are in danger. There is a "chemical cocktail" released into your system that is adrenaline and other potent chemicals that immediately ready you for action. Your body will want to urinate and defecate, to remove or lessen the chance of infection if a bowel or bladder is punctured. This is where the expression "Scared the crap or the pee outta me" came from. You start to perspire freely, to lubricate the skin to allow free movement and to make you slippery and hard to grasp. The increase of adrenaline speeds up your heart rate and also constricts the blood vessels in your extremities, pooling the blood in your core organs as your blood pressure drops in the first stage of shock. The surge of the cocktail increases your speed of processing information, and causes tachypsychia. Tachypsychia is a neurological condition that alters the perception of time, usually induced by physical exertion, drug use, or a traumatic event. It is sometimes referred to by martial arts instructors and self-defense experts as the Tachy Psyche effect. For someone affected by tachypsychia, time perceived by the individual either lengthens, making events appear to slow down, or contracts, objects appearing as moving in a speeding blur. It is believed that tachypsychia is induced by a combination of high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, usually during periods of great physical stress and/or in violent confrontation.

You may also experience Auditory Exclusion, where you do not hear the sound of a gun firing, or gunfire may be heard as muffled pops. You may not be able to hear voices at all, even if someone is shouting in your ears. There have been cases where police officers in gunfights think that their gun has malfunctioned and isn't firing, causing them to fire shots in the air to see if the pistol fires, or do clearing drills, ejecting unfired rounds thinking they are duds.

With the blood pooling in your core, and blood vessels constricting in the extremities, you often lose your small motor skills, where your hands shake and lose the ability to manipulate small objects. That is why in training, you want to learn to operate your firearm by using your gross motor skills (large movements), rather than delicate individual movements of single digits. Muscle memory becomes your best friend at that point. You will perform exactly as you train. In the Newhall massacre in the early seventies, California Highway Patrol officers that were killed had emptied the fired brass into their hands then put it in their pockets as they had done on the range. This may have contributed to their demise, slowing their reloading time.

Knowing that these things will happen to you and being prepared for it will help measurably in life or death situations. So many civilians and also a large number of the law enforcement officers that I have trained have told me how shocking it was the first time these things happened in stressful situations. Knowing about it before you are involved in a scenario can make the difference between life and death.

Here's some things to remember if you are ever involved in a shooting. The police are NOT your friends! Do not talk to the police at the scene of the shooting, or the immediate aftermath. You'll still be hyped by the chemical cocktail, and utterances and anything you say, even before you are formally questioned, can be used against you. Use your right not to speak, until you have an attorney present. There are people behind bars today because of statements they made before they had representation. Plan on being in police custody at least 8 to 12 hours, maybe more. The investigator will try to pick your story apart, so be aware of this. Don't volunteer information. Here's something to think about too. If you have bumperstickers or signs in your house saying Trespassers will be shot, or something similar, get rid of them before you start carrying. A good prosecutor can use this against you, using this as "This evil man was looking to shoot someone". The same thing applies if you reload your own ammo. Never carry handloads in your protection firearm. I've heard prosecutors say "This person was looking to kill, he wasn't satisfied with factory ammo, so he loaded his own special killer bullets"! It can happen.

In the aftermath of a shooting, even if completely justified, you will have PTSD. You may not want to go out in public, may have nightmares, and flashbacks. All our lives we have been told that killing is evil, etc. This may effect your relationships, so don't be afraid to see a counselor or a psychiatrist. That doesn't mean you are weak or mentally ill. You have survived a terrible situation, and may need help to get back to a reasonably calm life. At the same time, you may find the people around you acting different or avoiding you. The stigma of taking another persons life may be too much for some people to deal with. Let them go, it's not your fault.

I would also Highly recommend attending a shooting school, like Lethal Force Institute, which will show that you have been responsible about carrying a firearm, and also, LFI will send a expert witness to testify on your behalf if you do end up being charged with a crime.

I personally recommend reading good literature on the responsibility and consequences of using a firearm for self defense, such as Armed and Female, by Paxton Quigley, and In the Gravest Extreme, By Massad Ayoob, who owns and operates the Lethal Force Institute.

Believe me, I am not trying to discourage anyone who is willing to take on the responsibility of carrying a gun for protection. On the contrary, I encourage good people to arm themselves. Just remember that it is a tremendous responsibility, and prepare yourself properly, so you can live a healthy life with your loved ones safe.

Thank you all for reading this. I will have another part of my articles on carrying for the novice out soon, so stay safe, my friends, and I'll see you soon with more info.

By GunsmithG