Embrace the Violence:

Why disarming the populace will never work

Disarming the population only works if the population has truly overcome its violent nature. As with all utopian ideals, this is an utter impossibility. ‘The Crucifixion; The Last Judgement’ Jan Van Eyck, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This week, America reels from another senseless act of mass violence. One unhinged individual, 58 dead, more than 500 injured. It’s being reported that the attacker had stockpiled an arsenal of over 47 weapons for use in the attack.

Unsurprisingly, the debate over gun control has reached a fever pitch. At the root of the argument for gun control is an assumption: disarm people and the violence will cease.

Here’s the bad news, though. The violence will never cease. Only once we accept this reality can we start to talk about productive steps forward. We need to get comfortable talking about violence.

Human beings are an innately violent species.

Human beings are an innately violent species. We know this. All of our great religions acknowledge it. As much beauty, high thought, great art, altruism, and generosity that we are capable of, we still find ways to do horrible, gruesome, inhumane things to one another every day. Atrocities.

Some of the world’s great religions acknowledge this as a starting point. Buddhism: all life is suffering. Christianity: we are sinful by nature. Philosophers get it, too. Hobbes: life in the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Nietzsche: “The world itself is the will to power — and nothing else!” Even Gandhi, an icon of nonviolence, functioned under the presupposition of human aggression. His policy of Satyagrah — nonviolent civil resistance — can only exist because it first acknowledges the existence of violence on every level.

In short, violence is an inescapable part of our nature. While many of us wish not to think about it, and prefer to pretend that it isn’t there — perhaps even living a lifetime without ever acknowledging our own violent impulses — it is a part of our DNA. To believe anything to the contrary flies in the face of everything that millennia worth of human experience has shown us via recorded history, religion, art, literature, culture, and music. This is in no way to say that human beings cannot aspire to be something better and greater than what we are; to either believe in a higher power or ascribe to a moral and ethical code that allows our higher selves to prevail. But regardless of how we choose to conduct our own lives, we must accept as a fundamental point of departure that there is selfishness, desperation, tribalism, greed, and will to power in all of us. Fundamentally, human beings are biologically programmed to survive by any means necessary (hence the “fight” in our “fight or flight” response). We are all fighters, whether we know it or not.

Regardless of how we choose to conduct our own lives, we must accept as a fundamental point of departure that there is selfishness, desperation, tribalism, greed, and will to power in all of us.

For some of us, our own life story will teach us these lessons. When I was sexually assaulted, I didn’t know how to fight. I had always been taught that violence and aggression were objectively bad under all circumstances. I was as close to a pacifist as you ever would’ve found. What my sexual assault taught me was that violence doesn’t care about your ideology; when violence finds you, you don’t get to cry “I’m a pacifist!” and opt out of the game. It’s then and there that you fight back or pay the price.

See, that’s the way violence works. When it picks you, you’re in the fight, whether you consented to it or not. If you live in denial, as I once did, when violence finds you, you’ll freeze. “This isn’t the way things are supposed to go!” you’ll think to yourself, as the gunshots ring out at the concert or the shopping mall, or as the man pulls you down into the bushes next to the trail where you were running. You’ll be trying to get oriented — stuck in “What the fuck is going on?” — while the aggressor is two steps ahead of you, decisively acting out.

That’s called the OODA loop, by the way, and something that my combatives instructors have since taught me about. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act: that’s how human beings process unforeseen violent encounters. The better we can anticipate or train for different scenarios, the less likely we are to fall behind the thought process of our attacker. The minute we lose ground, we start losing the fight. I’m a boxer now, and my whole sport operates on this principle. Stay ahead of the game, call the shots, and control the fight; disorient your opponent with a stunning shot, and that’s when you move in for the knockout. You must act decisively before they can get reoriented. That’s how violent encounters work, even the consensual ones that we engage in for sport. When you’re attacked, you’re in a fight, whether you like it or not. The only way to win a fight is to gain control of that OODA loop — and as long as you’re in denial about the fight you’re in (or might find yourself in), you’re not going to have procured the awareness, training, and will that it takes to prevail in a violent encounter. That’s a recipe for failure — but that’s where we currently find ourselves as a culture when it comes to violence. We prefer to wring or hands in disbelief every time another attack occurs, rather than accept that, although we didn’t pick it, we are in a fight that’s not going away.

As long as you’re in denial about the fight you’re in (or might find yourself in), you’re not going to have procured the awareness, training, and will that it takes to prevail in a violent encounter. That’s a recipe for failure.

Of course, unlike other violent species who act purely on instinct, human beings have a rational capacity that enables us to choose a path of non-violence. We’ve built societies where our ability to live non-violently is safeguarded. We can carry out our daily lives never giving a second thought to violence. What we must accept, however, is that our daily security is ensured by a law enforcement and military community whose authority is fundamentally based upon their authorization to strategically and legally employ violent tactics if necessary in the process of ensuring public safety. The threat of violence by deviant individuals always abounds, but the average American relies upon this for protection. Look at every politician who is in favor of disarming the American people. Show me one who is not protected by armed members of law enforcement. In short, we cannot numb ourselves to the fact that violence is as innate to human beings as any of our other survival behaviors. Though some of us might find the thought repugnant, the fact is that the capacity for violence exists within us all.

Although I am someone who has chosen to embrace violence and undertake training in firearms, combatives, and combat sports, I do not stand in judgement of others who haven’t chosen the same path. What I do ask, however, is that everyone confront and accept that we cannot rationalize away the violent side of human nature. You and I may be capable of rationalizing away our own violent tendencies, or perhaps just curbing them; college professors can philosophize and proselytize and preach against the second amendment and we can ban concealed carry on college campuses, but all it takes is one active shooter at Virginia Tech to challenge that narrative. To a violent perpetrator, your open mindedness is a weakness to be exploited. If we do not acknowledge our own violent nature, we become idealists, and while holding high ideals is a good thing, we must be aware of the fact that evildoers view those ideals as nothing more than weaknesses.

If we do not acknowledge our own violent nature, we become idealists, and while holding high ideals is a good thing, we must be aware of the fact that evildoers view those ideals as nothing more than weaknesses.

Drunk people, unarmed, enjoying a concert, walled into a limited area with few exits, packed in densely together…to the perpetrator of the Las Vegas attacks, those basic facts made for a “shooting fish in a barrel” scenario that is so repugnant to most of us it is painful to imagine his mindset in plotting that attack. It seems incomprehensible to us — civilized, good, decent, law-abiding Americans that we are — that our most beautiful qualities would be seen by our enemies as weak points for exploitation. Still, that’s exactly how they are seen. Vulnerabilities. I know this in part from my own experience, and I’ve also heard it from others who have witnessed evil on a far greater scale. Working with veterans, I have had the unique opportunity to hear many first-person narratives on what true evil really looks like, from people who have faced it head on. It’s a reality that seems incomprehensible to most of us who have lived relatively sheltered lives, as I have — a private school educated former debutante, more familiar with the Ivy League and country clubs than the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. I opened my eyes to the violence in part due to my sexual assault and in part because I chose to after 9–11; not because I didn’t have a choice. And now that I’ve gone looking for it, I’ve found out more than I ever wanted to know. Decency, civility, and innocence are often the very Achilles heel that is the lone vulnerability of even the seasoned warrior. Our enemies know it, and they willingly exploit it at every opportunity.

Take the example from my friend, author and former Army Ranger JC Glick, who opens his book “A Light in the Darkness” with such a story. Soldiers guarding a base on a steaming hot day, a local pregnant woman with children in tow approaches to ask for water. They let down their guard, because they believe in basic human decency, and they give the children some water. Our culture dictates that there are certain things so taboo that one would never even consider them: a woman blowing up herself and her own children to kill an enemy seems to horrific to us that we wouldn’t even consider it. Even with all their tactical acumen, these warriors didn’t anticipate it. It cost them their lives that day.

Another friend, former Navy SEAL Jeff Boss, shares a similar story in his book “Navigating Chaos.” Pulling people out of a house during a nighttime raid, trying to separate out the women and children from the men. He found himself among the women and children, and observed an individual in women’s clothing holding a baby — but with a shadow of a beard on his face. Recognizing it was a man hiding among women, he immediately ascertained the man’s intent. “Drop the baby,” Boss ordered. The individual hung onto the child, and my friend found himself faced with the decision of whether or not to shoot this man while he was holding the baby. Tensions escalated, Boss repeated himself, and the man dropped the baby. He was shot dead on the spot (mercifully, the baby survived). Horriffic enough that the Americans in their decency could’ve paid with their own lives for waiting to shoot until the combatant dropped the baby; far more horrifying was the anti-personnel mine the man had strapped to his body under his woman’s dress. His intention had been to take out himself, along with every woman and child in his family, in order to kill Americans. Boss made the right call; shooting this individual stopped him from detonating an explosive that would’ve killed everyone else on the scene.

In the wake of the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, a third experienced combat veteran, Andy Stumpf, took to his blog acknowledge our collective Achilles heel — and to take it one step further. “How do you fight those who view compassion, love, acceptance and tolerance as weaknesses that are to be exploited and utilized?” Stumpf asks, “It starts with recognizing and accepting that evil exists, and that regardless of how ‘good’ you think you are, there is someone out there who wants to end you…Evil does not value life. Evil does not value choice, opinion, feelings, thoughts, desires, aspirations, freedoms, and individuality. Evil views compassion and tolerance as WEAKNESS, not strength. Evil values the sword, pain, and above all else, FEAR.”

Instead of responding to this attack with a naively paternalistic, “If you can’t play nicely with guns, then nobody can have them,” we need to focus on reality. Guns aren’t what caused this.

Instead of responding to this attack with a naively paternalistic, “If you can’t play nicely with guns, then nobody can have them,” we need to focus on reality. Guns aren’t what caused this. A human being is, and human beings can be violent as fuck. Our species is capable of inhumane, greedy, narcissistic, irrational, selfish, wicked, inconsiderate deeds. Most of us, hopefully, will never raise a hand in a violent act. Hopefully we will never have to. But we MUST fundamentally accept that our lives and very existence rely upon violence. Violence is the last resort when no other rationalization, rule, or threat is effective.

The problem is that the problem isn’t guns at all — it’s violence. And violence is here to stay.

We need to get to the point where we respond to an event like Las Vegas without the erroneous knee jerk response that if we just take away the guns, we will take away the problem. The problem is that the problem isn’t guns at all — it’s violence. And violence is here to stay. Take away guns, and there will be bombs, and IEDs, and all other manner of everyday items that can be weaponized at a moment’s notice. Our own bodies are weapons. Our choice, like the boxer in the fight I mentioned earlier, is to get with the program and fight back — or get eaten alive.

Productive solutions to the problem of violence in our society will begin with the acknowledgement that violence employed in the name of evil is the fundamental source of our problem — not the means by which it is enacted.

Given the acceptance of this fact, productive solutions to the problem of violence in our society will begin with the acknowledgement that violence employed in the name of evil is the fundamental source of our problem — not the means by which it is enacted. Here’s the difference, considering this week’s attack in Las Vegas as a case study on more productive ways to move forward:

  • Unproductive reaction to Las Vegas: “Ban semi-automatic weapons.” This naively assumes that nefarious individuals won’t always be able to procure whatever weapons by whatever means, and thus misses the inevitable outcome that now any chance is gone of law-abiding citizens being as armed as the bad guys. Productive solution: “Design a licensing process for ownership of semi-automatic weapons that involves extensive, regulated training.”
  • Unproductive reaction: “I hope that I’m never faced with a violent encounter, which is statistically unlikely; in the event that I am, I will simply call the police.” Productive Solution: “I will envision and anticipate threat scenarios that are likely to occur in my daily life at home, school, work, etc., recognizing that in many cases a law enforcement response will come after the violent encounter has already had time to progress significantly. I will undertake appropriate training to make that a safer place for myself and my fellow citizens. I will train in whatever methodology that is consistent with my beliefs, whether that implies learning life-saving medical techniques or learning how to employ strategic use of violence.”
  • Unproductive reaction: “The perpetrator of the Las Vegas attack was a crazed lone wolf, and it was an unfortunate freak incident.” Productive solution: “How can I recognize and help people in need in my own community, who might be suffering alone with mental illness or suicidality? What training can I undertake to recognize at risk individuals? How can I support children, places of worship, and community organizations that support my neighbors so that there is a better network in place to catch warning signs and help people before they reach a breaking point? How can I teach my children to be inclusive and fight bullying? What am I doing to look after my own family members who might be isolated or at risk?”

The bottom line? Violence is not, by default, a moral failure. It’s human nature. Sometimes the good guys and gals need to employ violence strategically to combat a threat. That’s reality. Disarming the population only works if the population has truly overcome its violent nature. As with all utopian ideals, this is an utter impossibility. It’s never going to happen, so we have to talk about different solutions. I hope that this is a start.