By Seth R. Nadel

What you expect to happen is colored by your personal history, your background, training, and experience. Around guns, your expectation can lead to all kinds of unexpected, and undesirable, results. Expecting a gun to be unloaded – or loaded – when it is not is one example.

The one that really impressed me happened decades ago, when the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs became the Drug Enforcement Agency.  An experienced BNDD agent came by the U.S. Customs Investigations office where I worked. We had recently been issued nickel plated S&W M19 revolvers, and new ammo loaded in nickel cases. I was in an office with another agent when the BNDD/DEA agent came in, and asked to see our new revolver.

My fellow agent, who was seated at his desk, drew his M19, opened the cylinder, and dumped the rounds into his palm. He expected to see 6 rounds, and was sure that he did. After placing the rounds into his desk drawer, he closely looked at the cylinder, where he expected to see 6 empty holes, which he swore he did. He then handed the gun to the BNDD Agent, who also looked at the cylinder, expecting to see 6 empty holes, which he did.

As I walked out of the room, he asked our agent if he could try the trigger pull…. followed by a LOUD bang! Seems with all these expectations, they both missed a live round. Providence was with them, and the round went through the wall and off into some empty fields.

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Now you see me…

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But now you don’t.

In another case, a Border Patrol agent was out, checking trucks, when one failed to stop. Being a new agent, he hopped on the step as the truck accelerated, and repeatedly ordered the driver to pull over. As the truck gained speed, he drew his revolver, pointed it at the driver, and ordered him to stop, which he did. The truck was loaded with illegal aliens, and the driver was arrested.

Back at the office, with the driver cuffed and seated at his desk, the agent opened his drawer to get a pen, and suddenly got very cold – as 6 rounds rolled around in the drawer. He then remembered that he had cleaned his gun just before the start of his shift. He had someone watch his prisoner as he went into another room and checked. He had risked his life with an UNLOADED gun!

Gun shops in my area all have large glass jars on the counter, filled with different kinds of ammo. Every round came from an “unloaded” gun! In many cases, the owner distinctly remembers checking the gun at home, or even outside in the parking lot! But somehow, when they walk in to have the gun repaired or to trade it in, a live round – or rounds, pops out.

And how many times do we see someone get hurt when an “unloaded” gun just goes off‘? Hunters sometimes miss the shot of a lifetime because they failed to load their gun, or take the safety off.

In the self defense realm, we have expectations based on the movies and TV. The less traumatic are the ones about the appearance of the investigators – you know, the men are all handsome and the women look like models – both wrong. In the real world, they look like …. You and me! And the bigger expectation is that the crime that affected you will be solved, and in 1 hour (minus commercials)! Many crimes go unsolved, and rarely is it solved in hours – more likely days or months, if at all.

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The “training box” in the corner.

Sometimes, the expectations bring about unexpected results, like the woman who had her white Cadillac with white leather upholstery stolen. On TV, the detectives always dusted for prints, and always caught their crooks. She insisted they dust her car for prints, NOW, and EVERYWHERE!! They told her it was a bad idea, but she KNEW it had to be done. The Department lawyer tried to dissuade her, but she was positive about the outcome. Finally, after she signed two separate waivers, they dusted her car with black fingerprint powder, which is very, very, fine. They found no useable prints, and had her car washed and vacuumed two times, before they returned it to her.

Just as the crime scene techs had said, the black powder got into every stitch of her expensive leather upholstery.  And every time she sat down, the powder puffed out of the seats and onto her expensive clothing. Yes, she tried to sue. NO she could not, and yes, she badmouthed the Department because she would not listen to real investigators!

Less humorous are our expectations about people held at gunpoint. We expect they will comply with our orders, and not run away, or attack us. They expect you will not shoot them, or that if shot, they will survive. This expectation is sometimes bolstered because they have been shot before, and survived. In fact, I read of a gang member in Chicago who had been shot on 5 separate occasions, and lived. But the 6th time, he did not.

Even worse is our anticipation that, because we have a certain caliber of gun, loaded with the latest, greatest ammo, and have trained with it extensively, that we will not miss! And that a single hit will cause the outlaw to do a double back flip and instantly (and bloodlessly) die. The shock when they do not sometimes causes the shooter to freeze, leading to all kinds of negative outcomes – including on some occasions the death of the defender.

Returning to the police side of things, officers have been injured or killed when they arrest someone they have previously arrested. All those other times “Good Old Joe” never gave the officer a problem – but this time he does! Officers make hundreds of traffic stops in their careers, and 99% go as wished – no confrontation, just a conversation, the issuance of a ticket, and a calm departure. Some officers become complacent, until they have that 1% stop that ends in a fight, which sometimes is a fight to the death. The officer expected this would be like all the other times – and sometimes they die from their expectations.

The reverse can also be harmful – expecting the worse all the time. Now, I certainly plan for the worst, by training, practicing, keeping the gun that I carry clean, lubricated, and loaded with the best available ammo. And, I carry all the time, everywhere! I simply avoid businesses posted “No Guns” – that sign means they do not want my money, so I go to the competition! I also “what if” all the time – what if the next guy who walks into the 7-11 announces a stickup? What if the lady ahead of me at the supermarket starts to attack the cashier? What if that car I passed has someone prone to road rage driving? Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

But allowing your “what iffing” to take over your life is a bad thing. Taken to the extreme, you end up with a bunker mentality, never leaving your “fortress,” fearing that every time your doorbell rings it’s THEM coming to harm you.  I know of some folks like this, with double chain link fences topped with razor wire around their remote homes, which they have surrounded with cameras and motion sensors. What a life!

So, I take a middle road. I carry only guns that have proven to work every time with my personal defensive ammo, in holsters that I am intimately familiar with. I have lights around the outside of my home, and signs advising about my alarm system, which I use every day and night. I have solid doors with good deadbolt locks, and a pair of fuzzy alarm systems (dogs) that alert well before a vehicle can reach my remote home.

I am not a prepper, but we do have extra food and water in our home, along with extra wood for the stove, multiple fire extinguishers, and an extensive first kit and the training and experience to utilize all these things. How many of you have actually discharged a fire extinguisher, or treated someone who is bleeding? Shooting is not the answer to every problem.

In public, I can be friendly towards everyone, while keeping strangers at a distance until I can evaluate their intentions. And I remain alert and aware of my surroundings, constantly assessing the risks of attack, fire, or other emergency, and considering how to respond. It’s not hard to live life at this level, in fact you do it all the time when you drive your car.

I do not expect the Government in all its’ forms to help me, so I can be pleasantly surprised if it does. I do not expect any individual to help me in any emergency either. If they do, great! If not, I have the training, background, tools, and experience to handle most anything. As a law enforcement officer and later a fire fighter, I have seen people, too many people, freeze rather than act. They often look like food, and as a result get eaten.

There is a Latin phrase that applies here:

“Sic Peace, Para Bellum”

If you want peace, prepare for war.

At the least, hope for the best while being prepared for the worst. And never let your expectations lead you astray.