Friday, May 17, 2024

Mindset: The Cooper Color Codes Revisited

Dominick Maldonado, Pierce 
County (WA) Sheriff's Department.
“When I changed into another position, I see just the most surreal sight,” McKown said from his bed at Tacoma General Hospital "It's a young Arabic-looking boy . . . with a ball cap on and an AK in his hand. McKown drew his 9mm pistol but then had second thoughts of shooting "a kid."

McKown told Dominick Maldonado (the shooter), "I think you need to put that gun down, young man."(1)

The “kid” turned and shot McKown five times, once in the leg and four times in the torso. Per McKown: "Every one of his shots got some part of me."

Cooper’s Color Code

The Cooper Color Code as Jeff Cooper promulgated it was not a system for describing levels of potential danger or situational awareness, but rather a technique to enable a law-abiding citizen (i.e. someone in McKown’s circumstance) to overcome a natural reluctance to use lawful deadly force against another.

Quoting Jeff Cooper: “The color code is not a means of assessing danger or formulating a tactical solution. It is rather a psychological means of overcoming your innate reluctance to shoot a man down. Normal people have a natural and healthy mental block against delivering the irrevocable blow. This is good, but in a gunfight it may well get you killed. The color code enables you to change your state of mind by three steps, each of which enables you to overcome your mental block and take lifesaving action.” (2)

Cooper’s color code conditions are White, Yellow, Orange, and Red as follows:

-- Condition White: Completely unprepared mentally to take a human life. In Condition White you may be in deadly danger and not realize it. If you are attacked in Condition White you are unlikely to be able to effectively respond and you may be seriously injured or killed.

-- Condition Yellow: State of relaxed alertness. In Condition Yellow although you are not aware of any specific situation which may call for immediate action, you know that you may have to defend yourself today. You understand that the world is full of hazards, many of which are human, and that your readiness to take defensive action can mitigate these threats. If you are attacked in Condition Yellow you will probably prevail if you are armed and may be able to take effective action even if unarmed.

-- Condition Orange: In Condition Orange you become alert to the possibility of a deadly threat in your immediate environment. In Condition Orange you understand that you may have to shoot a specific threat, right now, today. Your normal reluctance becomes easier to overcome because your training tells you that someone is threatening to use unlawful deadly force against you or another innocent.

Although you remain cognizant of the legal and moral aspects of the situation, the actions of that threat—right there—dictate your next move.

-- Condition Red: In Condition Red you have decided to act the instant the threat’s behavior warrants an immediate response. You have drawn your pistol because you are justified in taking the threat at gunpoint (and therefore justified in immediately using lawful deadly force); you can articulate why this is so. You wait for a trigger or immediately take lifesaving actions as the totality of the circumstances dictate.

An addition to the Cooper Color Code:

-- Condition Black: The color code as many instructors currently teach: The threat has tripped a final trigger. You must immediately use lawful deadly force to defend yourself or another innocent.

Massad Ayoob teaches that Condition Red delineates the gunpoint situation where you have clearly identified a threat (I am ready to shoot this person) but the threat is not using unlawful deadly force at that instant (I am not going to shoot this person yet). Ayoob defines Black as the instant an unlawful assault using deadly force is in progress upon you or other innocent people. In other words, a trigger or decision point at which we have no alternative but to use lawful deadly force to neutralize the threat. In this view, Black, describes the various triggering events that cause you go from readiness (Condition Red) to action.

Cooper contended that “Condition Black” was unnecessary and that Condition Red sufficed because in his view you have decided you are ready to use lawful deadly force when you enter Condition Red and as a result, there is no need to go beyond that condition. 

As stated above, many who teach Condition Black contend that there is a difference between being ready to act and deciding to act; that being in a Condition Red state of mental readiness does not necessarily imply immediate action.

Cooper himself alluded to this fact: “In Condition Red, you are ready to fight. You may not actually have to act on that, but your body and mind are now prepared for physical conflict. While this does not mean you instantly attack someone, you are certainly ready and waiting for a specific trigger or predetermined action that will launch the process. This state is where you have decided that you are ready and willing to fight back. Most people quite properly find this a difficult step, but the difficulty may be eased if it is anticipated. Thus, you cannot shift any farther upscale than Red, because in Red you have already surmounted the barrier. Adding categories merely complicates the problem without achieving any useful objective.” (3)

So, is Condition Black necessary? I guess it depends on how you view the problem. If the color code “conditions” describe a state of readiness then Condition Black is not necessary as Cooper contends. Once a critical trigger is tripped moving you to Condition Red, you are no longer in a state of readiness, but rather a state of action—you are actively responding to a deadly threat. If you accept this view, Black may be a decision point; however, it is not a condition.

Do you need another psychological condition to help you pull the trigger? Jeff Cooper would have said no, and I tend to agree. (4) I don’t think we need Black as a readiness condition; however, describing Black as a decision or trigger point may be useful after the event to enable you to articulate your mindset during the incident and how/why you knew you were facing unlawful deadly force.

Dan McKown was unable to shoot someone that looked to his eyes like a kid (see opening picture) even though that kid was actively shooting people in a crowded mall. McKown was in Condition White and his reluctance could easily have cost him his life and did likely cost him a lifetime of pain.

McKown's hesitancy had nothing to do with situational awareness, he was fully aware that he faced an immediate deadly threat. The tactically sound action at that moment would have been to immediately shoot Maldonado; however, he had not resolved in his own mind what he was and was not capable of doing. I am not criticizing McKown’s choice; however, if he had not been armed, McKown likely would not have confronted Maldonado.

I have been a Texas License to Carry (LTC) instructor for over eleven years and have taught over 1500 LTC students. Prior to COVID when I was doing in-person classes, I always asked every student why they wanted to get an LTC and whether they planned to carry a pistol. “I don’t want to shoot someone; I just want to be able to scare them if I am threatened” or “I only plan to carry my pistol when I think I might need it” were common answers. I believe that these students were in Condition White.

In classes, I have always stressed that the time to make such decisions is before, not during an incident. If you are not capable of using lawful deadly force, then all the training you may have completed and the fact that you possess a pistol is irrelevant.

 

(1) Tacoma News Tribune, https://www.thenewstribune.com

(2) Jeff Cooper's Commentaries Volume Six, No 9, pg 45-46

(3) Jeff Cooper's Commentaries Volume Eleven, No 12, pg 56

(4) Jeff Cooper's Commentaries Volume Thirteen, No 1, pg 4: “Moving from the various Conditions into each other is easy to accomplish once it is understood. If you are attacked in White you will lose the fight. In Yellow you will have the advantage of initiative response over your antagonist. In Orange you are pretty safe, provided you are armed, alert and aware. In Red you win. Simple, isn't it? Clearly you cannot go any further than Red because in Red you have already made the lethal decision. Complications are unproductive.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Tunnel Vision, Tunnel Hearing, and Stress

Sometimes during a dangerous or life-threatening situation it simply becomes impossible for you to attend to all the stimuli coming at you simultaneously. A temporary blindness or deafness effect can take place as a result. A variety of factors that include high levels of adrenaline in the body from stress or anger cause inattentional blindness--a temporary loss of peripheral vision, also referred to as temporary tunnel vision. Inattentional blindness is a psychological lack of visual perception that is not associated with any vision defects or deficits. Inattentional deafness is a similar phenomenon that affects hearing and is not associated with any hearing defects or deficits.

Everyone’s reaction to a life-threatening situation will be somewhat unpredictable. Although many accounts of traumatic incidents have similarities, no two are the same. People working in the military, police, fire, or medical fields have experienced numerous sensory distortions including tunnel vision while under stress. If you are not aware that you could experience the world in such a bizarre way, it could add to your stress levels.

“I told the SWAT team that the suspect was firing at me from down a long dark hallway about 40 feet long. When I went back to the scene the next day, I was shocked to discover that he had actually been only about 5 feet in front of me in an open room. There was no dark hallway.”
(1)

Tunnel Vision: Tunnel vision can result from the combination of a fear-induced adrenaline dump associated with a specific, dangerous threat. Because kind of danger you have to be in to experience a fear-induced adrenaline rush isn’t something we can practice in a safe training environment, it is important to study the symptoms so we can recognize them when they occur.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University ran a series of tests on human subjects with a goal of measuring the loss of visual acuity while engaging them in activities designed to narrow attention. The experiment was designed to cause tunnel vision—and it did. However, while the subjects experienced tunneled vision, they also experienced decreased auditory attention (tunnel hearing?).

Researchers discovered that visually focusing on something intently led the audio cortex to turn down the volume as well. According to Drs. Yantis and Shomstein: "Our findings support several conclusions. First attention affects early visual and auditory sensory responses. The “push-pull” effect of switching attention between vision and hearing suggests that focusing attention on auditory input (e.g., a cellular telephone conversation) can impair the ability to detect important visual events (e.g., driving an automobile). When attention is directed to the visual system the strength of audial attention is compromised (and vice versa) leading to potentially significant behavioral impairments." In other words, a person intently focused on something visual could have diminished hearing. Conversely, a person intently listening to audible cues such as a radio or cell phone could have diminished visual performance.
(2)

In this article, I focus on these sensory distortions--tunnel vision and tunnel hearing.

Look at the sequence of pictures below. In this incident, three armed individuals invade a home. As they are searching through the house, they awaken a woman who steps into a doorway. One of the home invaders (white hat & jacket) notices the woman, points his pistol at her, and begins moving toward her. She opens fire with her pistol. Surprise!



Invaders #1 & #2 immediately begin scrambling to escape through the door they kicked in to gain entry. The woman advances toward the escaping home invaders and fires another shot. As she does this, home invader #3 comes running out of a hallway to the woman’s left with his pistol pointed toward her (see movement 1). As he careens past, at one point his pistol is pointed toward her head while her pistol is simultaneously pointed at him (movement 2). Their arms collide as invader #3 continues running—deflecting both pistols—neither fire (movement 3).



Invader #3 continues running toward the back door (movement 4) while she continues advancing and shooting at invaders #1 & #2 who are firing back at her without even glancing at invader #3 (movement 5).





Based on the video, I believe the woman and invader #3 were both experiencing tunnel vision. I doubt they even noticed each other at all. She was focusing on the two invaders to her front who were also shooting at her and invader #3 was fixated on escaping (he ran through the glass door at the rear of the kitchen). The video is available here: Home Invasion

Tunnel Hearing or Audio Exclusion: Tunnel hearing is like tunnel vision. In October 2021, Mr. Prince Riley and a colleague had advertised dirt bikes for sale. Two men approached Riley at his home and indicated they were interested in purchasing the bikes and Riley invited them into his garage to view the bikes. One of the men indicated that he wished to purchase the dirt bikes and that he needed to return to his car to obtain cash. The man returned and brandishing a pistol, announced a robbery. The perpetrator moved to close the garage door when he stated his intent to kill everyone.

As Prince Riley reacted to this announcement and began drawing a concealed handgun, the perpetrator fired at Riley six times missing him with all six. Riley fired once, ending the attack. Riley later stated that he thought the attacker shot at him three times. Audio from Riley’s surveillance system made it clear that the perpetrator had fired six distinct shots. Riley had experienced auditory exclusion.
(3)

So, are we are stuck with a genetic predisposition that prevents us from dealing with dangerous modern emergencies? No, because we can learn, remember, adopt and practice a plan to deal with emergencies. Look at the video at the link below. The gentleman in the black shirt with a white stripe on the shoulder is an off-duty police officer who chooses to engage a robbery team at a supermarket. The wisdom of engaging in a gunfight with numerous children in the vicinity notwithstanding, the officer does not become so fixated on the bad guys to his front that he fails to notice shots coming from behind him. In other words, he does not succumb to tunnel vision nor tunnel hearing. He immediately moves to a cover position and confronts the threat behind him in response to the unexpected sound of shots to his rear (at the 24 second mark in the video). An example of good training. Supermarket video: Supermarket

These psychological and physiological reactions to dangerous events have worked very well to ensure the survival of our species. Maintaining an intense and narrow visual focus on a cave lion spotted in the brush may have been a very good survival mechanism for the early modern human. Individuals with these traits survived encounters with wild animals and their families benefited from the increased safety in the immediate environment and more protein available in their diet. This increased their chance of passing their genes onto modern humans.

Going through any simple series of motions causes the neurons in your brain that control that movement to fire in a particular sequence. The more often you repeat a physical sequence, the more “automatic” the sequence becomes. Just thinking about making those movements stimulates both the neurons in the brain that control those movements as well as the neural pathways in the muscles that command the muscles to move. Research has shown that visualizing emergency procedures is almost as good as actually performing them.

The first step in dealing with narrowing attention is understanding that it can happen as your stress level rises and your body does an adrenaline dump in response. Being able to control your stress is one of the best ways to combat the ill-effects of the hormonal chemical dump that changes your psychological, cognitive, and physical performance. Breathing techniques are very effective if you have time. If you find you are fixating on one sound or one task, make a conscious effort to unlock your senses from it and force yourself to scan your environment. It may also help combat the effects of tunneled senses if you ask yourself: What am I missing?

Practicing reactions to emergencies increases our confidence and increased confidence lowers the stress response of our bodies when we actually face dangerous situations. Our field of vision is not as narrow as it might be otherwise and our tendency to fixate on a “fear object” diminishes. Because our brain is in a more relaxed state, it is more able to dedicate resources to creatively addressing new challenges (for example, incoming gunfire from an unexpected direction). If we practice the right thing instead of simply allowing our natural reactions to rule the situation we are better able to successfully manage our behavior.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, you can subscribe at the link in the upper right. For more information about firearms training in South Central Texas go to the
Sensible Self Defense Academy website: SSD

1 Anecdotal statement from a Law Enforcement Officer. Perceptual and Memory Distortion During Officer-Involved Shootings by Alexis Artwohl, Ph.D. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 2002/18
 

2 Control of Attention Shifts between Vision and Audition in Human Cortex, Sarah Shomstein and Steven Yantis Journal of Neuroscience 24 November 2004, 24 (47) 10702-10706

3 Stay Ready So You Don't Have to Get Ready -- The Prince Riley Story, Concealed Carry Magazine, January 2024, Vol 21, Issue 1, pages 70-75

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Ed Monk’s Active Shooter Instructor Class -- An After Class Review

I recently attended Ed Monk’s Active Shooter Instructor class at Karl Rehn’s KR Training facility. The counter Active Shooter Instructor class is a two-day course for firearm instructors structured to provide an outline for experienced firearms instructors to develop and teach citizens, law enforcement, churches, schools, and businesses an effective active shooter response program. The classroom training provided extensive coverage of trends, lessons-learned, and valuable insight into the reality of an active shooter attack.

The Federal Government defines an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” In addition to the term “active shooter,” several other terms to describe someone committing these atrocities are in use in the United States including mass murderer, active killer, mass shooter, active mass murderer, and probably others. Many within the firearms community decry the use of “active shooter” because a first responder deploying a firearm is in fact an active shooter as well. Ed stated that he uses the term “active shooter” because that term is the one most used in the United States.

Time and math. While it is theoretically possible to stop an active shooter before he causes any casualties, it is statistically unlikely. The question then becomes “How many casualties are acceptable?” This number is a function of time and math. Ed’s research indicates that the typical active shooter will shoot someone every ten seconds. Therefore in 30 seconds, on average the shooter will shoot three people.

I live in the small city of Garden Ridge, TX. Occasionally the Garden Ridge Police Department hosts short, private-citizen  active shooter response classes. In an announcement for a class, the Garden Ridge PD stated that: “Once notified, law enforcement will respond as quickly as possible with an average response time of three minutes.” Few would argue that three minutes is a good response time; however, in three minutes, the average shooter will have shot eighteen people. Some active shooters shoot many more than one every ten seconds in the initial moments of the attack so the casualty numbers in three minutes could be much higher.

Ed discusses the skills, tactics, techniques, and mindset necessary to stop an active shooter. Per Ed: “The best way to save the most lives once an active shooter attack starts . . . is to stop the shooter quickly!” The most successful technique is to attack the shooter and shoot him down. Other techniques include causing him to commit suicide and/or disabling the shooter or his weapon. Ed also discusses the unfortunate fact facing those who choose to be or are forced to be unarmed: you can fight (unarmed) or watch him shoot people.

Ed provides detailed data and analysis of all varieties of active shooter incidents and locations. He then provides an overview showing how to design and manage training specifically for the different types of locations where active shooter events typically occur.

Since this was an instructor class, the range training focused on live-fire drills and scenarios that train and assess skills critical to stopping this threat. The range training discussed how to run scenarios using both 3D and photo targets and how to manage these decision-based scenarios.

Hunting an Active Shooter

 

Found Him

I have taken enough training over the years that I consider the class a success if I walk away with one or two new concepts or instructional techniques. Ed Monk’s Active Shooter Instructor class was worth the time and effort to attend—I learned a lot and walked away with a wealth of new material.

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Monday, March 18, 2024

My Friend Could Not Stop the Bleed

A close friend of mine died recently—he shot himself in the left femoral artery and bled to death. It may have been an accident or it may have been intentional, the totality of recent circumstances in his life leave me and his other friends in doubt. We will never know with certainty; however, we do know that regardless of the original intent, he did try to apply a tourniquet but was not successful.

This prompted some reflection on my part. I consulted a friend of mine (Troy M.), a retired emergency room physician and my wife (also a former ER physician) and asked that given a “worst case scenario” how fast could you bleed out from a cut femoral artery? They both stated that worse case would be 60 – 90 seconds depending upon where and how the artery was damaged.

If the worst case is that you are by yourself (as my friend was), dealing with the shock and trauma from a gunshot, and with a 60 second clock ticking, digging through boxes to find the tourniquet you need to save your life is probably not going to work.

I tend to handle firearms in only two places in my home – the master bedroom and my workroom. The master bedroom is where I don and remove my every day carry pistol and my workroom is where I dry practice, clean, and maintain firearms.

Our master bedroom doubles as our safe room, so we have a complete trauma kit with tourniquets properly staged and other medical supplies ready to treat gunshot wounds and to stop the bleed.

That was not the case in my workroom. Although I do store medical supplies in my workroom, I did not have anything properly staged and ready for immediate use. I have corrected that oversight. Rest in peace my friend.