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On Target

by on January 15, 2015

                                                                      On Target

                                                               by Marco M. Pardi

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The comments sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments. 

The text below should in no way be construed as advocating or providing a “how to” on the taking of life.  The purpose is to counter the simplistic and misleading media portrayals that make violence appear clean,  easy and of little consequence. (Marco M. Pardi)

Real events of carjacking, robbery, murder and home invasion played repeatedly on daily news programs, Hollywood blockbusters, and video games have a tendency to coalesce, especially when they describe and/or portray violence.  Marketing and sales data consistently show sudden spikes in weapons purchases immediately following spectacular shooting incidents.  Motivation for these purchases seems to swing from fear the weapons will be banned – even confiscated to visceral fear of being the next victim if unprotected by firearm ownership.  Enthusiasts, regardless of the purpose for which they own firearms, have noted in recent years that ammunition, especially for certain types of firearms, is scarce to simply unavailable.   Yet, while certain firearms may be banned, outright confiscation is a most unlikely scenario.  And, as will be presented below, visceral motivation for purchase is commonly a prelude to tragedy.

Video games, films and television – albeit based on “true events” in some cases, and even most of the better news coverage fail to address realities concurrent to and subsequent to the events portrayed.  The sales have been made, the tickets sold, the sponsors pleased and it’s on to the next item.  Let’s look at these portrayals, beginning with hand-to-hand and ranging to remote sniper activity.

Despite their fearsome reputation, formal martial arts are appropriately named; they are art forms with the added characteristic of enabling the performer to disable, subdue, and possibly kill an opponent.  Because they are so heavily formalized they are predictable.  They are impressive in matches, but often of little use in confrontations.  Alternatively, some military and intelligence officer trainees are schooled in “Physical Apprehension and Restraint Techniques”, a program which appears to be basic “mixed martial arts”.  These techniques enable the user to disable and disarm opponents armed with knives and, if close enough, firearms. A very select subset of these trainees are schooled further in an arcane preparation to recognize and use any common item which comes to hand such as a playing card, a ballpoint pen, or a plastic drinking straw to inflict lethal damage.  These training programs are choreographed to enable the students to engage in unprotected full contact just short of lethality.  Outcomes commonly include periods of recovery from severe bruising, even broken bones.  Media viewers are treated to the fancy moves, but not the grueling preparation and the painful aftermath.  Media viewers are also commonly treated to images of the good guy rendering a guard unconscious and then moving on to the objective.  Only a fool leaves a guard unconscious, liable to awaken at any moment and sound the alarm.  Once down, the guard is silently killed.

Schooling in the use of the fighting knife begins with understanding the parts of the knife and what the knife can and cannot do.  Films often show someone throwing a knife at an opponent, it sticking in, and the opponent folding over in death – as if the human torso is merely a sandbag into which any knife will immediately stick and kill.  Throwing one’s knife is the dumbest thing one can do.  The crossbar bisecting the wrapped grip tang and the sharpened blade tang is there, not for sword dueling but for keeping the hand from slipping down the grip onto the blade when one plunges the knife and encounters bone.  It also assists when twisting the knife to maximize tissue and blood vessel damage.  It is common that one has to grip and hold the opponent while inserting the knife repeatedly.  Expect to come away bloodied.

The proper use of the garrote, a device for strangling the opponent,  requires training in the positioning of the arms, a technique commonly misrepresented in media.  Improper positioning of the arms prior to application of the garrote can result in a wrestling match with unpleasant consequences.  The best garrotes are single braided wire.  In addition to strangulation, they frequently cut through the jugular vein and the carotid artery spraying blood until the heart stops beating.

Recent decades have seen an alarming rise in the sale of firearms for “home defense”.   As a backdrop, media portraying police or military searching a home or taking up defensive positions within the home show exactly the wrong way to go about it.  It is hard to decide if this is done out of ignorance or out of some misguided belief that they should not show the correct way.  News clips pertaining to the purchasing trends sometimes show people, usually women, wearing hearing protection and firing pistols or revolvers at gun ranges, the “bad guy” being a black silhouette.  Like martial arts, this is fine if you are preparing for competition shooting.

In home defense scenarios the resident is immediately faced with a choice: Confrontation or concealment, the so-called “fight or flight” response. Despite the hours at the family friendly shooting range, many inexperienced residents are ill prepared to act on the confrontation choice – the shooting of a human versus the shooting of a paper target.  Too often we read of tragedy when a family member is mistaken for an intruder.  And, there are several problems with conventional bullet firing pistols and revolvers as home defense.  A bullet requires true aim in a sudden, often darkened situation.  When a firearm is discharged in such a situation (darkened and in close quarters) two factors work against the inexperienced shooter: Muzzle flash temporarily blinds the shooter; and, muzzle report temporarily stuns the shooter.  The effect is similar to a mini stun grenade.  If the first shot was not optimally effective, there is a gap time before the shooter can re-acquire the target.  During that time the shooter cannot clearly see or hear the target moving about.  Rapid fire, especially if it repeats the error of the first shot only compounds the problem, especially if the shooter is inexperienced in handling recoil drift.

Some residents appear to feel “the more gun, the better” and so choose assault rifles.  Bad mistake.  As compact as they often are, they are still clumsy in darkened close quarters.  And, even when fitted with flash hiders, they merely diffuse the flash, still illuminating the area.  The same holds for “silencers”. There are no silencers; there are suppressors, which diffuse the sound waves to disguise the origins and somewhat reduce the sharp blast.  The result is similar to a barking cough, not a zipping sound.

All bullet firing weapons, long guns or handguns, share another problem: Over penetration.  The calibers and loads often considered appropriate for home defense are such that they go through walls, including the studs on which the drywall is mounted.  This puts others in the home, even neighboring homes at risk.

Since most in-home confrontations will occur within 15′, frequently in darkened settings, and with inexperienced residents, the best home defense choice is the .410 shotgun shell firing revolver in 5 or 6 shot configuration.  Every ammunition manufacturer has rushed to provide this ammunition, in a variety of configurations. Those thinking .410s are for young boys shooting squirrels might note that, although the figures vary slightly by barrel length, .410 00Buck rounds deliver 4 lead balls at 1,225 feet per second, each yielding 1,081 ft-lbs of energy at 15 feet.  Yet, their wall penetration is minimal.  If you can’t take down your attacker with 5, or even 6 of these you should have chosen concealment.             

And now the aftermath.  Unlike the movies, in which the shooting stops and people are either quietly dead, comfortably alive, or gracefully wounded (“It’s only a scratch”),  We do not typically see the wounded combatants writhing in pain, holding in their intestines, or calling for their mothers as they go into shock.  Inexperienced shooters, especially in their own homes sometimes yield to the impulse to rush to the aid of the person they shot. A wounded assailant may yet be a capable assailant. And, there is a mess to clean up.  Head shots, and some torso hits, bleed profusely. By the time the police and paramedics arrive there may be substantial pools of blood and urine, already breaking down into constituent parts.  The odor quickly permeates fabrics like carpeting, drapes and other furnishings.  Blood is difficult to remove from fabric.  The police and EMS have no role in clean up.  If kind, they may refer the resident to a local professional service which attends to this.  Those costs are borne by the resident.  Also borne by the resident are any costs incurred in therapy for self and/or family members traumatized by the events.  And, family members of the assailant, no matter the criminal judgment of the event, are not barred from filing civil suit against the shooter – as has happened in some cases.  Very simply, the shooting part is only a focal point, not the whole picture.

This last point particularly applies to trained snipers.  A film just now coming our purports to tell the story of “American Sniper”.  Not having seen it, I would not say it does or does not.

Sniper School is long and grueling.  Time spent on the firing range is only the proof of a very complex and drawn out pudding recipe, including hours spent understanding optics, ambient temperature, windage – including variations between sniper and distant target, concealed travel, concealed positioning, collateral risk assessment, and safe extraction.  The calculations are often so demanding that snipers operate in teams; a shooter and a spotter, who does all the calculations for the shooter.  But those calculations pale in comparison to those which go into the decision to take the shot.  

Typically done at a distance, often approaching 2,000 meters, the sniper has the final say on whether the person in his sight picture is a valid target.  As we saw all too often in Viet Nam, every dead Vietnamese was a dead Viet Cong – after the fact.  A significant part of the ongoing PTSD suffered by Viet Nam vets is the lingering uncertainty and doubt over the validity of their actions and of those around them.

I have not written this as an anti-gun screed or a pro-gun primer.  I have tried to put the (all too literal) flashpoint of taking a life into its full context.  I offer no statement on whether it is right or wrong.  My concern lies with the way the entertainment media, and even news reports, mislead the public into viewing killing events as a simplistic day at the county fair, pay a dollar and shoot the metal ducks off the conveyor belt.   

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  1. Rebecca Work permalink

    Marco, I left, what I think, is a particularly good comment. It promptly disappeared off the screen. Until I retrieve it with some coaxing, I thank you for continuing to share as I always learn so much and come away with much to ponder.

    After looking at the 2014 summary of blog readings, number of times read, what countries are represented all over the world, please keep them coming. You touch so many and undoubtedly make a difference. I know you do in my life. My heartfelt thanks for that.


  2. Thank you, Becky. I don’t know what happened to your comment, and would like to read it. Still, your encouragement is heartening and much appreciated. I know that several readers have benefited from your comments, and am glad you continue to provide them. Marco


  3. Very interesting. I just hope it is never information I will ever need.


  4. Your expertise certainly shines through on this one! You have shared your vast knowledge in the fields of self-defense and weaponry in an honest and matter-of-fact manner; I appreciate your lack of drama in the presentation.

    Between the various venues which bring vicarious violence into our lives (video games, movies, and the quasi-reality of news reports), I think we have become a bit blasé about the horror that killing should be; taking another life should never be thought of as a casual occurrence. Each of us would like to believe that we could and would defend ourselves and out loved ones if the situation should render it necessary, but none (or most) of us are prepared for the reality of it. The physical and emotional backlash would be horrific. I hope that none of us ever have to face it.


    • Thank you, Rose. As you rightly infer, I could have gone into greater detail. The first thoughts – in the situation, can be formidable. But the second thoughts can be more so. I’ve said elsewhere that if a person wants to eat meat they should first step up and slaughter an animal themselves. I feel I can say the same for people who want to send someone else off to do their shooting for them. Thanks again, Rose.


  5. Marco, I am mystified …how many aspects of you are there ? what were you (beside all the rest 😉 ? a 007 like agent or rather I can picture you better as the coolest Indiana Jones !!
    Thanks for shedding light on so many different topics !!


  6. Dana permalink

    Marco, thank you for this important and informative piece.

    This might sound naive, but what about hammers all around the home for defense? I can’t take credit for this, and at first found the idea a little humorous. However, now I wonder if it wouldn’t make sense to keep several easily accessible.

    For those of us who have non-human animal family members as well, we have to consider their safety when opting for shooting only.


    • Thank you, Dana. Your question is not naive, especially for those of us with four legged family members. I did a brief stint training female officers in hand-to-hand defense, and would do so again. A hammer does sound formidable, but my preference would be machetes with minimum 18″ blade. Of course, this means closing with the opponent – always opening the possibility of being disarmed by the opponent. And, if the opponent has a firearm this tactic is useless in all but expert hands. Nonetheless, having razor sharp machetes carefully pre-positioned is reasonable. They cost about the same as a good hammer.

      I know you would be greatly concerned that your family member would rush to your defense, getting himself killed or hurt in the process. And, you would be afraid of shooting him in the turmoil. It’s a tough call, and one I hope you never have to make.


  7. P.S. If you opt for machetes, always choose those with wrist straps. While it is highly unlikely someone will grasp the blade and pull it from you or pull you toward them, it could be knocked out of your hand unless secured by the strap. Marco


    • Dana permalink

      Thank you, Marco. Agreed – let’s hope (there’s that word) such unfortunate situations never come to fruition. However, I do think we should be reasonably prepared.

      “I did a brief stint training female officers in hand-to-hand defense, and would do so again.” This sounds like a marvelous idea. Now you have me imagining an altogether different sort of meet-up group for those interested. We could entitle it something such as “Mysticism, Martial Arts, and Machetes.”


      • Thank you, Dana. It proved very helpful, and I was very glad I had the opportunity. I think it would be useful for most women. If you are interested, you might look at literature explaining Aikido. Marco


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