The high profile murders of four women in the Fairmont Terrace apartments early last month have a lot of us—including the City of Tulsa, which recently formed a new public safety intelligence group—thinking more about safety. Our series looks at the various answers to this question: What’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself from an attack?
For a lot of people here in Oklahoma, the answer to the question of the best way to protect yourself from an attack is simple: carry a gun.
But, political leanings aside, the question of whether it’s practically a good idea for any given individual to carry a gun, is a little more complicated.
Be Ready to Shoot
Dong’s Guns, Ammo and Reloading on Admiral feels a little bit like a well-stocked bunker: the darkish interior is tightly filled with tall rows of hunting and shooting supplies and accessories.
Owner David Stone says if you’re not certain you could actually use a gun on another person to protect yourself, then a gun probably isn’t for you.
“Let’s say you’re in fear for your life and you pull your gun,” Stone says, “but you’re not prepared to shoot to defend yourself, then they’ll possibly just take the gun and shoot you with it, with your own gun.”
That’s an opinion which members of Tulsa’s law enforcement share, like police officer Leland Ashley. He says he gets a lot of questions from people about whether or not they should get a gun.
“What I’ve always said, if you feel comfortable with a gun,” Ashley says. “Everyone’s not comfortable having a firearm.”
He says willingness to use a gun is a major part of that.
“If you’re going to carry a gun, you have to know in your mind, that if you’re being attacked, and you’re going to pull that weapon, that you’re going to use it,” he said. “Because if not, then now the suspect has a weapon they can use against you.”
That’s one reason stores like David Stone’s carry other, less lethal—not to mention much less expensive—alternatives.
“We have various sizes and colors of pepper spray,” Stone said, “which if you spray somebody in the face, they’re not going to be able to open their eyes for 20 minutes.”
The downside would be the possibility of catching some of it yourself, in a bad wind. Next, up, small stun guns.
“These are like 800,000 volts. You do have to touch the person with it,” he cautions. “You have to physically touch them, push the button, and it’s going to shock them and probably knock them down.”
Here again, Officer Ashley cautions that you must be mentally prepared.
“Worst thing you want is someone to wrestle that away from you, and now they’re tasering, stunning you,” he said.
Pepper spray costs about $10, and the stun guns run around $40. Stone says knives can also be a useful, and cheaper, alternative. Ashley says carrying something sharp can be a good idea for joggers.
Ashley says being prepared with a self defense item, be it a pepper spray keychain or a semi-automatic handgun, is only part of the equation.
“One thing I always suggest is be aware of your surroundings,” Ashley says. “A lot of us, and I’m including myself in this, are not always aware of where I’m at.”
He says that should be a consideration, any time you leave your home, “no matter if you’re stepping outside your front porch, grabbing the morning paper.”
Also, he says, although it’s not necessarily pleasant to think about, know what action you would take if you ever were to be confronted.
“Always think about the ‘What if?’” he said. “What would I do if this happened?”
“We do it with our kids all the time,” he added. “As adults, we need to do that also.”
He says protecting yourself from an attack is as much a head game as it is one of having the right equipment.
In part two of our series, we hear from instructors of different kinds of self-defense classes, and the importance of mentality, with whatever style of defense you learn.
When you think of a self-defense class, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn't learning how to pick the lock on a pair of handcuffs.
But the class Alex Queen teaches at Prosapia Partners in Coweta offers little in the way of strategic eye-gouging or knee-kicking. His classes teach a different set of skills, with a different set of priorities.
“We're trying to educate the people on the different threats that they face and the different manners to address them,” he explains.
That's why the ladies' self defense class teaches how to escape from restraints like handcuffs and zip ties.
It also includes some photographic memory exercises and a basic shooting lesson. But for the most important part, Queen's not teaching any maneuvers.
Profiling and Flexibility
In the first part of the class, he shows a presentation and encourages note-taking.
“If we're situationally aware, establishing a baseline is no big deal,” he lectures. “You understand the flow, which is the most important part. Rhythm and flow is huge.”
The most important part of the class is learning how to profile your situation.
“If something seems like a fish swimming upstream, that's an anomaly,” he says.
He explains an anomaly as anything that happens less than 50 percent of the time.
“As you're looking for anomalies,” he says, “the question that you should be asking, there are two questions: ‘What's in my area that should not be?’ and ‘What’s not in my area that should be?’”
Being aware of your surroundings is advice that many experts, from law enforcement to self-defense instructors, tend to give.
Queen's class teaches the tools for doing that, dealing with more specific mental techniques, as opposed to generalities.
And while Prosapia does offer concealed carry and other gun-related classes, Queen says, “It's not our intent to arm everybody with a firearm.”
“We would rather have someone who knew how to think their way out of a scenario, than to go straight to their gun every time, because very rarely is that actually an appropriate response,” he says. “Our concealed carry instructor says, ‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.’”
Many places in Tulsa do offer more traditional self-defense courses.
Title Boxing Club recently partnered with Tulsa’s Domestic Violence Intervention Services to offer a defense seminar. Owner David Murrell says, though Title is technically a fitness club, “We saw a natural connection with self-protection and our workout.”
Nick Grandinetti is one of the trainers who taught the class. While he does teach more common physical maneuvers, he stresses simplicity and instinctiveness.
“I don't expect a five-foot-three, 110 pound women to judo throw a 215 pound, six-foot-five man,” he says.
Grandinetti says he also wants to stress the importance of awareness, though in an upbeat manner, without causing fear.
And while that might seem to contrast, for instance, Alex Queen's intensity about situational profiling, Grandinetti's message is ultimately similar.
“That text message?” he says. “That can wait until you’re actually in your car. Or better yet, wait till you get home. It's not that important. So, it's always a constant game of observation.”
“Don't look like a victim and be aware of your surroundings,” he says.
Not All Crime Is Random
Grandinetti says that awareness and instinct are useful even in situations where a potential crime isn't random.
According to police officer Leland Ashley, most home invasions in Tulsa aren't necessarily random.
“Someone knows something about this individual, or somehow, there’s some type of activity that’s involved that’s making this individual choose this home,” Ashley said.
Organizations like DVIS make the point that most sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances.
So while the case of a random attack might be the exception, the skills of constant observation that instructors like Queen and Grandinetti emphasize can be one of the most important parts of self-protection, in any setting.