2011 December 04 Sunday
Sam Harris On Responding To Criminals

Sam Harris makes a number of practical and sensible suggestions about what to do when confronted by criminals.

Imagine: You are loading groceries into your car and man appears at your side with a gun.

“Get in the car, and you won’t get hurt.”

Your instincts are probably bad here: Getting in the car is the last thing you should do.

“Get in the car, or I’ll blow your head off.” 

However bad your options may appear in the moment, complying with the demands of a person who is seeking to control your movements is a terrible idea. Yes, there are criminals whose only goal is to steal your property. But anyone who attempts to control you—by moving you to another room, putting you in a car, tying you up—probably intends to kill you (or worse). And you must understand in advance that your natural reaction to this situation—to freeze, to comply with instructions—will be the wrong one. 

Harris has thought hard about how to best respond to criminals in different situations. The article is worth a read. Better to walk your mind thru the reasoning now since most people make wrong decisions when finally faced with criminals in real life.

One obvious point: Don't be where criminals are likely to be. Don't take unnecessary risks, especially when alone. I state this point because it bares repeating. Don't become complacent.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 December 04 06:30 PM  Economics Crime


Comments
Stephen said at December 4, 2011 7:20 PM:

This worries me: Principle #2: Do not defend your property

I know the above bit of advice is entirely logical, but this seems to be one of those occasions that may be rational for an individual in the short term, but leads to negative outcomes in the longer term.

Lono said at December 5, 2011 9:30 AM:

Most criminals will foolishly let you get too close to them - if you act meek - at which point you are free to put them into a world of hurt.

All citizens should learn some basic self defense techniques (and if possible shooting skills) or be sheep easily led to the slaughter.

For those who scoff at this - I would say - it is your life so take it seriously!

bbartlog said at December 5, 2011 1:01 PM:

@Lono: *Most* criminals aren't out to murder or kidnap you. I've been held up at gunpoint. I gave the guy all the money in my wallet (about $60). He left. Given that he was holding a gun to my ribs, he was certainly close enough that I could have tried to fight him - but it would have been really, really stupid. As Harris points out.

While I agree with Harris in general, I think he overemphasizes the importance of being prepared for extremely rare crimes (home invasion, kidnapping for the purpose of murder). I also think his advice may be kind of bad for women facing possible rape, depending on circumstances. Rapists rarely kill their victims, so for a woman (especially one untrained in defense) the choices may come down to 'being raped' versus 'getting the shit kicked out of you, then raped', with odds of death probably greater in the second case.

Gene said at December 5, 2011 3:13 PM:

My general rule is the quicker you kill your enemy, the less shot you will get. So, don't try to communicate or negotiate. Just kill them...quickly. NEVER EVER wing somebody...at a minimum it's one to the chest and then one to the head. And shoot them with something that starts with a "4"... .45 is good. I recommend NOT closing distance, unless you are taking out the enemy with a knife.

Randall Parker said at December 5, 2011 6:52 PM:

Lono,

The optimal response depends on details such as your physical strength, coordination, training, weapons, location, lighting, and other factors. But for most people most of the time I think Sam Harris is right.

If you think your assailant intends to kill you and is willing to shoot you in the back and you have a gun then using it might be the optimal strategy.

Gene,

If you are a good shoot and have good enough lighting and the guy means you harm then what you say may be correct. But in a large number of encounters with criminals they just want your stuff. You've got to size up the circumstance and behave appropriately for it.

I think the biggest rule is: Stay away from high risk situations. The second biggest rule is make yourself less vulnerable wherever you are. Have good locks on your house, a guard dog, and other defenses. Choose hotels and restaurants and other places away from home so as to minimize your risks. Avoid night trips in dangerous areas.

Lono said at December 6, 2011 10:03 AM:

Randall,

To be honest - I did not get enough sleep before I posted my last response.

Article is excellent and I agree with you and Harris completely.

I have asked this here before years ago - but I would ask again - has anyone here ever created booby traps at chokeholds in their home that could help neutralize intruders?

If I had the resources to build a new house - in this day and age - I would surely include such things - and deisgn it so that they could be used in conjunction with (and possibly from) a well disguised panic room.

bbartlog said at December 6, 2011 2:08 PM:

I've considered the idea of booby traps in a house, but constructing them in such a way that the actual benefit is greater than the risk posed by accidents is a formidable design problem if you have three kids. If it's the sort of thing you worry about, having sturdy internal doors that can be locked quickly, along with multiple firearms in the house, seems like a better way to go.

aandrews said at December 6, 2011 5:08 PM:

There's a legal liability in rigging booby traps in your home/on your property to be aware of. I guess it's considered poor sportsmanship. Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katko_v._Briney

Lono said at December 7, 2011 9:19 AM:

aandrews,

True - that is a major concern - I was mostly thinking of considerably less than lethal type traps - things to scare or to slowdown an attacker - it would be somewhat unorthodox.

Thanks for linking that specific case - very interesting!

Crazy Horse said at December 7, 2011 2:36 PM:

If there are criminals it's only because there is private property.

Maybe we should abolish private property. That might not be very pleasant, but I think people would be happier knowing at least that we'd all be fucked up equally. Inequality is what drives people up the wall.

Snubby said at December 7, 2011 7:58 PM:

My general rule is the quicker you kill your enemy, the less shot you will get. So, don't try to communicate or negotiate. Just kill them...quickly. NEVER EVER wing somebody...at a minimum it's one to the chest and then one to the head. And shoot them with something that starts with a "4"... .45 is good. I recommend NOT closing distance, unless you are taking out the enemy with a knife."

Don't get so obsessed with the .45. People should find a round and pistol that they are comfortable and accurate with, whether it is a .38, 9mm, .380, .32 or whatever. But yes to keeping your attacker at a distance. Distance is your friend.

WJ said at December 13, 2011 11:26 AM:

"I know the above bit of advice [re: property crime] is entirely logical, but this seems to be one of those occasions that may be rational for an individual in the short term, but leads to negative outcomes in the longer term."

Short term: you die.
Longer term: ???? You come back to life? Your ghost haunts his ass? Perhaps for society it would be better if fewer people submitted, but for you, at that moment, the wisest choice is submission.
If a criminal points a knife or gun my way and demands my wallet, my cell phone, or my Hello Kitty backpack I'll give him the property, because the small chance he might actually hurt me is far worse than the loss of the property. If he points a knife or gun at me and demands me to get in a car the calculation changes entirely. Neither is a great choice, but the better bet is that you're safer in a public place where people may be witnesses. At the very least if you do die he has a better chance of getting caught, a possibility which may or may not provide consolation.

And I really don't see where complying with his demands to get in the car is an instinct. It sure as hell wouldn't be my instinct. There are scarce few public places where a gunshot or scream wouldn't attract attention. The criminal's hope is that your fear overrides your judgment. Once you start moving (i.e., running) your chances of coming to the attention of someone else increase substantially.

One thing that seems to be missing in Francis's article is the perhaps uncollectable hard data. Is it better for a woman to flee a potential rapist, and take the chance of getting hurt, or to submit and hope that he's a gentle lover? My guess is the former, but actual stats would be useful. I think the vast majority of criminals prey on your fear of them; prey on your being an easy target. It's a game that many of them have been playing and winning their entire lives.

Randall Parker said at December 13, 2011 6:58 PM:

WJ,

Also on short versus long term: dead people can not identify criminals in a line-up or testify against them in court. I question whether fighting criminals is the best way to deter crime. A very large fraction of the population can't physically fight criminals in any case.

Gene,

Seriously, what fraction of the time are you carrying a gun?


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