Thursday, November 12, 2015

Training - How Close is to Close?


On or about November 9th Sherry McLain was approached in a Wal-Mart parking lot by a man asking for a light. He got to within 10 feet when she pulled her gun and threatened to kill the fellow. He made a quick exit stage right . . . went back into the store and dialed 911. Ms. McLain was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment. She felt “in fear for my life” . . . the police saw no obvious threat. I’m sure it will be hashed out in the courts and I suspect not to the favor of Ms. McLain.

Please, take a moment to listen to the entire news spot and read the article, it will “set the table” for my thoughts on this topic.

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They also have a Facebook page and this incident took center stage for a day or two with a broad range of comments by many well-known firearms instructors. Again, I would like you take a few moments to take a pass through the comments, they give an interesting look into the landscape of how professional firearms trainers view the event . . . and this also helps “set the table” for this post. The link is as follows:

Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum . . . and Shirley McLain doesn’t live in one either. Just a couple more searches . . .

The first is a search for “parking lot assault Murfreesboro tenn”, the link is here . . .

The following attack caught my eye in the search . . .

What if we tighten up the search to just Walmart parking lots (there are 3 in Murfreesboro) . . . it looks something like this . . .

Including a story about finding dead bodies in a Walmart parking lot . . .

One last search, about a favorite game played by the “yoots” of today – the “knock out game”. Is that played much in the quiet little burg of Murfreesboro?

So let’s flesh out the table setting a bit.

Shirley McLain is 67 years old. As I begin to stare at that age myself I must admit that were I to go up against a good sized critter in their teens or 20s, I may well end up on the short end of a physical assault. During her on-air interview I made a number of judgments about her – she is fairly slight, obviously frightened (though that certainly in exacerbated by the past few days) and I did not get that she was merely “saying the words” – I was in fear of my life – I believe she truly believed she was under threat. I also got the impression that she lives alone. If true that could certainly add to her discomfort.

She lives in Murfreesboro area. Just take a moment to recall the violent assaults, the victims of the knockout game and the bodies actually found in a Wal-Mart parking lot. ALL of this plays into the formula that Ms. McLain sees herself living in. Whether she knows details of all or some of the incidents – I suspect she knows of some of them. It is certainly easy to imagine herself as being in danger by simply driving to a Wal-Mart parking lot. Extreme? Maybe – but to a career criminal I suspect a Wal-Mart parking lot looks more like an ATM than we care to admit.

We live in a 24-hour news cycle that thrives on the “if it bleeds it leads” mentality. Again, this plays into a belief that I see in many of the folks that take my defensive handgun classes – things are becoming “frayed around the edges”.

Does race play a part? Sadly, yes. If you watch today’s news the “face” of violent crime in urban area, that face is all too often black. For Ms. McLain to be afraid of an approaching black man is perfectly understandable to me. In an ideal world this would not be . . . we do not live in an ideal world.

I also want to spend a bit of time on the “victim’s” side of the fence as well. Seems he bought a pack of cigarettes – there is video and witnesses to support that. However, once in the parking lot his singular choice was to look out into the parking lot (reportedly busy by news accounts) and single out an unaccompanied, elderly white woman. Is that what comes to mind when you’re looking for someone with a light for your cigarette? Really?? Heck, I’d head for the redneck in the pickup! Not the little old lady.

A second question – why not just go back in the store and pick up a dollar lighter? They’re at virtually every checkout line I’ve ever seen. A couple minutes and you can light every cig in your pack.

I’m also curious just who this guy is. Seems he’s unwilling to be interviewed. Heck if it were me I’d love to go on TV and complain about the crazy old woman who shoved a gun in my face . . . yet he refuses to do so. Why?

With these “place settings” laid out upon the table . . . the courts will obviously have the final say. I suspect it won’t end well for Ms. McLain.

There are, though, a few more things to consider and lessons to be learned here. Here they are in no particular order.

“He never got within 10 feet” I call BS on this particular argument. Were he a dedicated attacker – and didn’t have a gun in his face, we may well be reading about the poor old woman beaten and robbed in the Walmart parking lot. If you have a determined attacker within 10 feet – and you’re not up and on target – it will not end well for you.

“Pepper Spray – that’s the answer” Heard this too. I give this a “maybe”. If the attacker is committed (and in this case this woman was SELECTED for approach) I suspect that pepper spray in the hands of a 67 year old woman be little in the way of a deterrent.

“Should have evaluated the pre-attack signs” Again – I give this a “maybe”. There is not enough information here to make a determination when Ms. McLain first saw her perceived threat. If he approached across a parking lot and she had eyes on him for a significant distance – that is one thing. If he just popped up on her – he’s probably very lucky (and she as well) that he left the scene with the same number of holes he arrived at.

There are obvious things that she either forgot – probably out of fear – that we all need to remember.

Being aware of people around us as we approach our cars in parking lots. As I said earlier – in many areas these are simply ATMs for the bad guys – keep your head in the game.

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO USE YOUR VOICE! While there were many witnesses that heard Ms. McLain threaten to kill the man in question – no one that I have heard describe the event heard her say anything about him staying away from her – that she wanted him to leave and had no interest in helping him. If your course work and training does not include a loud vocal challenge – I would encourage you to work that in as part of the shooting drills.

She is obviously going to have to defend her actions in court. There are four primary areas she is going to have to be able to articulate clearly – Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy and Preclusion. I’m not going to cover that here but if you go to THIS POST I covered it in detail. The best time to prepare for this type of defense is to take good coursework NOW, TODAY . . . no really, I mean right now and learn the things you need to be absolutely clear on should a defensive encounter occur. Massad Ayoob’s MAG-20 course is the one I point every one of my students towards should the opportunity arise. Just yanking a gun, sticking it in their face and threatening to kill them may seem like a good idea at the time – there is a whole lot more to it than that.

Finally, when the perceived threat ran away – that’s it, it’s over. Check your surroundings, holster your weapon and notify the police. DO NOT THREATEN TO KILL THEM WHILE THEY ARE RUNNING AWAY!!! Oh . . . and one other thing . . . DO NOT POINT A LOADED GUN AND EVERYONE ELSE BETWEEN YOU AND THE PERCEIVED THREAT AS THEY ARE RUNNING AWAY!!!!! Just sayin’.

So I disagree with the “quick answers” – never got within 10 feet, pepper spray, clearly no threat . . . there’s always more to it. Will that help Ms. McClain? Who knows but I would suspect not. Listening to the police, to the folks interviewed on TV – I think she’s going to get the “crazy old lady with a gun” treatment.

That does not mean that the guy wouldn’t have beaten her to a pulp if he hadn’t looked down the barrel of her revolver either . . .

For us, as armed citizens, it’s another example of why training is important. As instructors it helps point out things we need to make sure each and every student understands when they leave our classrooms.

And, as a society, it is yet another indication that things are, indeed, becoming “frayed around the edges”.


  1. Claude Werner is one of the folks everyone should pay attention to. He's had thoughts on this same article and they are worth your time to read and see how they apply to you!

  2. That is a hard one... I'd have stopped him with a gesture and a hand first...