If you ever get known for something, Facebook will let you know. So it was with John Johnston and I when news broke that an off-duty police officer in Brazil was involved in a two-on-one shootout against armed robbers in a pharmacy, while holding his infant son in his arms. The curriculum we have developed and have been teaching around the country for the last year—Contextual Handgun: The Armed Parent/Guardian (TAP/G)—deals directly with the kind of scenario presented in the video. And the notifications started rolling in from people asking for our thoughts.
Simply put, the video is a great example of what armed violence with a child in arms can look like, and validates a lot of what we teach in TAP/G and why.
First, it’s important to note that we do not have the full story of what happened and likely never will. News reports are unreliable at best and the further they have to travel, the more unreliable they can be. A story out of Brazil cannot easily be verified and the only facts we have to analyze are those presented in the video.
Whoever this is and whatever he was doing before the incident is unclear. What is abundantly clear is that this individual was in a shooting while holding a child in his arms. Many opinions have already been shared about the man and his actions. Several people are also attempting to make assumptions about what was going on off camera or making judgments based on emotional responses and little understanding of violent encounters.
I want to talk about some of these criticisms, why they are unfounded based upon our research, our current understanding of violence, and what we’ve discovered while developing TAP/G. I also want to discuss some of the tactics that were employed and validity of them based upon that same research.
Fleeing Is Not Always an Option
One of the biggest criticisms of this man was that he didn’t flee.
In response, allow me to pass on a bit of advice that I got when I first started training: Anyone who says, “I would just…” and follows that up with some sort of singular action that would save the day is demonstrating that they do not fully understand how quickly these scenarios may escalate and how dangerous they really are.
“I would just leave,” implies that he could leave safely or that he had an avenue of escape at all. Of course, being able to get out of the situation before it escalated, or to run to safety once danger was identified, is the ideal course of action. After all, we win every gunfight we avoid. But some gunfights cannot be avoided. I don’t know if he could have avoided this fight. I did not see the beginning of the encounter. Either way, this individual found himself in the fight with a child in his arms.
A Come As You Are Event
Another criticism we saw being posted online is that the man was shooting while he had a baby in his arms, as though he had a choice. If you asked any armed parent if they would prefer to shoot with a child in their arms or without, I guarantee you that they would all look at you like you had lost your mind and say, “Without! Of course!”
Not only is your own flesh and blood in the middle of a violent encounter with you, but you are now forced to respond one-handed. You have less control of your firearm, you are generally less accurate (especially at speed), and malfunction clearing and manipulations are more difficult. Shooting one-handed is a disadvantage that anyone would hope to avoid in a real encounter.
However, violence often comes looking for us unbidden. We don’t get to choose the time, the place, or our state of readiness. As parents, we can have our children in our arms, we can be distracted, and when violence erupts around us (or at us), we must be prepared to respond as we are.
Now that we’ve addressed why he perhaps couldn’t flee or why he perhaps had to—not chose to—fight with his child in his arms, let’s talk about what he did while he was shooting.
Squared Up Stance
There are not many people who teach shooting with a child in your arms. It is an area of study that has been sorely lacking in the industry at large. Many of those who have briefly considered the problem have concluded that one should blade their body with their child in their arms to provide some sort of a physical shield between the bad guy and the child.
In TAP/G, we do not teach blading the body to “shield” your child. We teach a squared up, aggressive, firing stance that puts you in the best position to remain not only mobile but to maintain the maximum amount of control over your firearm. This is crucial for allowing fast, accurate fire, especially when we are forced to have only one hand on the gun.
Blading the body to shield the child limits your mobility and range of movement. It extends the arm and shoulder in a way that limits the use of muscles, such as the pectorals, in controlling the firearm under recoil.
Additionally, depending on factors such as ammo and angles, shielding another human being with your body may be less effective than one might hope. Human beings do not reliably stop bullets.
The vast majority of instruction in combat shooting, as well as other fighting arts, teaches an aggressive, hips squared towards threat, stance. This is so that we are able to respond to events as they occur, and maintain the maximum amount of control over our firearm and movement. If we are already being put in a situation that requires us to shoot in a less-than-optimal way (one handed), why would we further limit our ability to respond by purposely choosing a less-than-ideal shooting stance?
More importantly, why would we take the time? As Will Petty would say, these are typically high-intensity, short-duration, close-distance events. Any time spent not actively solving the problem is time that we can ill afford to lose.
Lastly, presenting a bladed body to an attacker stacks your lungs and heart on top of one another, so that a single shot could potentially impact all three. A transverse lung-heart-lung shot is nearly unsurvivable.
The man in this video squared himself to his targets. This allowed him good mobility (as evidenced by his movement) and good control of his firearm. The only time he comes close to blading his body is when he searches for potential threats behind him. As soon as none are found, he squares back up to his known threat and resumes a forward aggressive stance, pressing the fight forward.
His Priority Was Ending the Fight
People who see violent encounters that feature children often have very emotional responses. They want to see emphasis on getting the child to safety. They want to see children protected at all costs. Unfortunately, when the emphasis is on protection, outside of the context of executive protection—with bullet proof vests and teams of people ready to enact simultaneous protective measures and counter ambushes—the cost can be the lives of both the protector and of those they were attempting to protect.
In the early days while developing TAP/G, John Johnston and I would prioritize defensive measures such as “shielding” over aggressive, fight ending, counter attacks. This was the “common wisdom” that had filtered down from contexts that were not actually applicable to what we were attempting to do. When put to the test in simulated encounters, these measures saw a higher rate of negative outcomes for both the parent and the child. These negative outcomes were also reflected in real world reports of attacks on parents when their children were present that we were able to find and study. It became very clear to us early on that we simply do not have time to enact purely defensive measures that rely on “shielding” the child if we are the sole responder to a firearm-based threat. We changed tactics and discovered that when fleeing or de-escalation was not an option, an aggressive counter attack was more likely to end the encounter quickly with less injury to the parent and the child.
Prioritizing ending the fight by any means possible saves lives.
He Got the Child Out of the Fight at the Earliest Opportunity
When we’re talking about tactics and techniques, it is crucial that we identify the actual target of the violence. Data suggests that violent attackers that initiate violent attacks against a sole individual tend to remain focused on that target unless something or someone else significantly interferes with that attack. An attack directed specifically at a child indicates that it will be more difficult for us to draw the attack away from that child. The inverse of that is that an attack directed at the parent or adult often means that the violence can be drawn away from the child by getting the child out of the fight as soon as safely as possible and gaining distance from him or her.
News reports claim that this video is from an armed robbery gone bad, indicating that at no time was the child the intended target of the attack. In this instance, drawing the attack away from the child may be possible if the child can be removed from the fight safely. Even though our priority is ending the fight as quickly as possible, that doesn’t mean we aren’t looking for an opportunity to get our children out of the conflict.
In the TAP/G curriculum, we discuss how it’s possible to get your child out of the fight quickly and safely if you’re on your own. But nothing works quite as well as handing a child over to another responsible adult, as evidenced in the video. News reports say this was his wife, though it’s entirely possible that it could have been someone else caught in the middle of the attack. In a violent encounter it takes faith and clarity of thought to put your child in the care of someone else—whether they are known to you or not. Keep in mind that while the natural inclination for parents may be to gather their loved ones close to them in the middle of violence, the very best thing you might be able to do in this situation is hand your child to someone else. This hopefully moves them further from the encounter and allows you to more effectively respond, if need be.
Without knowing what lead up to this encounter and whether there was an opportunity to escape before guns got involved, this officer did everything he could to protect his family and the patrons of that store once the shooting started. By getting aggressive enough quickly enough, prioritizing the end of the fight, and taking the opportunity to get his child out once it was safe to do so, he successfully ended an encounter that could have been devastating for himself, his family, and bystanders.
When it comes to fighting with your children in your arms, it’s important to try to separate emotion from reality. It’s also important to remember that tactics and techniques that may be ideal in a team or protective detail may have little application to a sole, armed citizen with his child in his arms. These discernments are emphasized and taught in Contextual Handgun: The Armed Parent/Guardian and we welcome you to come to our next available class if you wish to see how and why we teach our techniques.