Incident Analysis: Have you thought about how you’d deal with a criminal gang?

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Wisconsin has, from the time I was a kid, seemed like it should be a quaint place. Their largest city, Milwaukee, is smaller than the largest city in my home state of Oregon — and Portland isn’t known as a large city by most standards. Famed for dairy farms and agriculture, Wisconsin isn’t the first place you think of where crime is concerned.

Wisconsin is also a latecomer to the topic of concealed carry of a handgun. Their “shall issue” law only went into effect in 2011, and so the culture of lawful self-defense is still relatively new.

As it turns out Wisconsin has their share of violent crime, and the effects of their citizen’s ability to defend themselves are already being felt. Take, for instance, the case of a recent attack and self defense shooting in Milwaukee. A group of five violent violent teenagers — who police would later say were responsible for “dozens” of armed, violent robberies in less than a week — attacked a group of adults. This attack, however, didn’t go as well as the others they’d pulled: one of the intended victims had a concealed handgun, which he used to defend himself and his friends. The result was the death of one of the hoodlums, a 15-year-old male.

(There’s a twist to this story: the dead thug had been shot during a similar robbery attempt only a month before, but had obviously recovered sufficiently to resume his life of criminal activity! He had a long arrest and conviction record, so this was “not his first rodeo”.)

The news reports have scant details on the encounter, such as the circumstances of the attack, what the motive was, or the conditions under which the attack occurred. What is certain, however, is that a teenager identified as a known gang member experienced sudden and acute failure of the victim selection process.

Even without details, there are still things we can learn from this encounter.

Our first lesson is that not every criminal is scared of the gun you carry. In this case, the dead attacker had already been shot (and presumably repelled) during a similar robbery attempt. It’s obvious that his first shooting didn’t dissuade him from his chosen profession; in fact, it may have emboldened him. He didn’t die, after all, which may have lead him to conclude (as so many teenagers do) that he was invincible. This made him more dangerous — after all, if you think you’re immortal what limits will you impose upon yourself?

The second lesson has to do with the realities of criminal gangs. That shooting may have influenced this fellow’s decision to attack with a group of like-minded cohorts. A group is more dangerous than a pair (or an individual) not just because they can do more physical damage; group dynamics make it easier for the members to behave more violently than they might otherwise.

In this case, a violent criminal who doesn’t appear to have been afraid of armed resistance surrounded himself with other violent individuals to do violent things. So definite about their combined prowess were they, in fact, that they attacked not a lone individual or even a couple, but a group of adults.

Think about the mindset: they must have been very sure of their ability to dominate their victims, else they would have chosen a loner or maybe a pair. A group which attacks another group is a serious threat: they expect to win even when the odds are getting close to even, likely because they’re prepared to use more force than they believe their victims will use against them. Group to group, that means a lot of force.

Groups of criminals are dangerous and unpredictable. When they choose to attack another group, that means they’re even more dangerous and even less predictable.

The third lesson is that you’re not necessarily safe just because you’re in a group of your own. Our group of victims obviously didn’t deter this young man and his little gang in the least. The feeling of safety which comes from a group makes it easy to allow yourself to be more distracted and less aware of what’s going on in the environment around the group.

I don’t know if that’s what happened here, but I know for myself that I do feel safer when I’m in a group — and have to fight my tendency to let my guard down or subordinate my safety to the others (who are likely to be experiencing the same misguided feelings of security.) If I, as a pretty well trained and cognizant teacher of personal security, can experience this illusion of safety I can imagine that someone less well trained and equipped may experience that illusion to a far greater degree. Had one of this group not been armed, the result might have been grim.

The fourth lesson is that a larger number of attackers may mean that you have a larger number of people who need to be shot. In this incident that doesn’t appear to have been the case, though it’s unclear if the concealed carrier in fact shot at anyone else. He may have and missed, or the fellow he did shoot may not have been the first target — just the one who stood around long enough. In any case, an attack by a group of criminals carries with it a substantially increased likelihood of needing to deal with multiple lethal threats.

As you may know I’m a big fan of the revolver and believe that it makes a solid self defense choice for some people under some circumstances, but when it comes to dealing with this many threats (attackers) at once I’d want to have something else on my belt! This is the type of incident where I’d want that high-capacity autoloading pistol with a spare magazine.

It’s possible that even when faced with multiple adversaries the gang would have scattered at the first shots, but there’s no guarantee of that. In this case, given the level of violence exhibited by the attackers it’s plausible that they wouldn’t have all been deterred just because one of their own got shot. (After all, he’d been shot before and everything worked out fine!)

This is why, in locales or circumstances which have a greater likelihood of  multiple attackers, I give up my limited capacity revolver and choose an autoloading pistol with spare magazines. Pick the tool to fit the plausible risks!

According to many police agencies multiple assailant attacks are on the rise. Factor that into your self defense plans and train accordingly.

-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-

P.S.: In the Incident Analysis series, we often don’t have all the details about any given incident; there may have been extenuating circumstances that would substantially change the storyline or evidence that would lead a grand jury or court to take a different view than what’s presented here. In the absence of those details, we’ll assume that the story is what it appears to be on its face and take the lessons we can learn based on what we’re told. The incident may in fact turn out to be different than what is reported, but the lessons will still be valid even if they’re found to not apply in this particular case.

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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