By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
Much has been written about the legal and practical aspects of armed self-defense. While those aspects are certainly good if not outright crucial to be aware of, de-escalation as a tool for self-defense is often overlooked.
De-escalation is not something you should overlook at all. Some people aren’t going to be talked down, but how many road rage or other shootings could have been avoided had someone decided to try and defuse the situation before gunfire erupted? Thankfully, these incidents are fairly rare; far more defensive shootings are in response to situations where de-escalation wouldn’t likely make a difference such as home invasion or armed robberies.
However, you may find yourself in a situation where de-escalation can prevent tragedy.
A recent incident occurred in the city of Bedford, Texas, a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, where an attempt at de-escalating on someone’s part may have made an enormous difference. According to NBCDFW, two men began arguing in the parking lot of a Kroger grocery store in the early evening of Jan. 16, 2017, about a ding in one of their car doors, when the disagreement turned toxic.
One of the two men – who has a concealed pistol license and was armed – was sitting inside his car while the other was standing outside of his vehicle. Each told the other they were armed. The man that was outside his vehicle – identified as Sam Phillip Smith, 28, of Haltom City – began reaching behind his back. The other man in the argument thought he was reaching for a pistol, drew his own and fired.
Smith, who turned out not to be armed, died of his injuries. The shooter was arrested on suspicion of murder. He was released, pending the investigation. This situation may result in no charges being filed. After all, according to the report, the victim told the shooter that he had a gun and reaching behind one’s back is not the most prudent action when someone thinks you have a gun.
However, what could have prevented this tragedy from occurring at all? One or the other participants calming the situation. A bit of paint isn’t worth getting into an armed confrontation. The man who shot Smith is going to have live with having killed a man over a car door for the rest of his life.
What then, are some good de-escalation techniques for the average person to keep in mind?
You can’t take control of another person’s emotions, but you can take control of your own emotions. If dealing with a clearly agitated person and you have the opportunity to de-escalate the situation, stay calm. Be alert, but stay calm.
The National Institutes of Health recommends that if you are dealing with an agitated person do not try to calm them down; instead, try to guide them into calming themselves down. “Calming a person down” imputes a dominant-submissive dynamic which can register subconsciously and irritate someone further. They also recommend avoiding coercive language or actions, as a person on edge can likewise take these as signs of aggression. Don’t tell them to calm down; this can be taken as dismissive, which can incense someone further.
Make sure you listen, and actively listen. Paraphrase what they say, ask that you’re understanding them correctly, and ask open-ended questions.
If possible, get their first name and use it. People tend to respond positively to the use of their first name, so this can help steer a discussion in a friendlier direction, or at least a less-hostile one.
Also, be empathetic. If someone you’re having a conflict with gets a sense that you understand what they’re angry about, they can become more pliable. Try to apologize for contributing to their distress. Don’t necessarily admit fault (especially if involved in a traffic accident) but express remorse that whatever situation it is has occurred.
Attempt to find a solution to the conflict, if possible.
Granted, de-escalation isn’t always going to work. If confronted with a clearly agitated person and talking them down is not an immediate option, put as much distance and as many barriers as possible between you and them; don’t get drawn into a violent confrontation unless it can’t be avoided. You should definitely call authorities if you’re able to.
With that said, a successful attempt at de-escalation can result in something better than successfully defending yourself: not having to.
Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.