(originally published in South Carolina Woman, April 2010)
Self Defense Laws of All 50 States by Mitch and Evan Vilos
Now I realize that this is a women’s magazine, but I am a firm believer that knowledge of self-defense is a huge tool for empowerment and that women warriors are not to be trifled with. This month’s article is guest-written and comes to me from Marc Denny, a co-founder of the famous Dog Brothers martial arts organization. If you’ve never heard of the Dog Brothers, then you have to check them out at http://www.dogbrothers.com. For now though, read Denny’s review of a book that every personal-defense oriented person needs to own. The book can also be purchased from their bookstore. His article was first published in a newsletter from the Dog Brothers…
In the real world, our Rules of Engagement (ROE) and our environmental awareness usually are more important than our physical fighting skills. Some of us have clearly worked out our ROE already. This is good. Having a sense of what one is and is not willing to fight for is an essential ingredient of not getting started in matters for which one is not willing to fight.
He who has not really thought about it may find himself having to work things out on the fly while under duress- not good!!!
For example, someone barks and instinctively he barks back as a matter of self-respect and/or the respect of onlookers. Sometimes all is well- the situation subsides. But sometimes, the situation escalates and a terrible problem arises- in this moment he must determine whether to fight. If not, then he may fear installing a backdown from an adrenal escalation into his self-programming. He may fear that this is very bad for future response to adrenal dumps. He may fear looking or feeling like a coward. As a result he may decide to fight- that is to say he agrees to fight for…for what? Certainly not for anything which he would have fought if he had already worked out his thinking!
For me, and your mileage may vary, a fundamental principle is “What you think of me is none of my business”. Of course there may be variations, but on the whole if someone barks at me it is very simple: according to the physical realities of the situation I can leave or respond with verbal judo/de-escalation techniques. If these fail, then I can be clear both to myself and to any witnesses that may be present that I sought to avoid the fight and now must act. This makes for an unencumbered mind and a superior level of action- and better testimony should it ever come to that.
My next rule of engagement is to “Avoid the Three Ss”. That is to say, avoid Stupid people in Stupid places doing Stupid things.
Putting these three rules together (Environmental awareness; What you think of me is none of my business; and Avoid the Three Ss) will prevent most problems before they even get started.
Still, the flying fickle finger of fate can reach out and tap us with difficult situations.
Certainly environmental awareness includes being aware of what is going on in your physical awareness. Certainly you should have skills for “Managing Unknown Contacts.” But today I want to talk about a particular aspect of environmental awareness which is off most people’s radar screens- the legal jungle in which we find ourselves.
As my criminal law professor in law school said to me, “We don’t have a justice system. We have a legal system.” Be very clear that its rules and values may be very different from your sense of Natural Law!!! You need to be very, very clear that witty heuristics to be found on Internet forums may have little or no basis in fact for where you may be when the excrement hits the fan.
Furthermore, worth noting is that few of us find ourselves in only one legal jurisdiction over time or even at the same time- within America think municipal, state, and federal all covering you in one place at one time and that as you move around you find yourself under the different laws of the various states. Indeed, we have fifty different sets of state law and there can be substantial differences amongst them. THIS DIVERSITY IS A GOOD THING. In the wisdom of our Founding Fathers (divinely inspired in my humble opinion) our federal system is a laboratory of freedom so that we can try different approaches and move away from ones that do not suit us to ones that do suit us.
REGARDLESS, BE CLEAR THAT THE LAW OF WHERE YOU ARE AT A GIVEN MOMENT ALSO NEEDS TO BE PART OF YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS. If you are to walk as a warrior for all your days you should know how you are and aren’t you allowed to be armed; if you are required to retreat and if so, under what circumstances; what the rules are concerning the coming to the aid of another; when may you use deadly force; what is considered deadly force; what you can and can’t do to fleeing felons, what the criminal consequences possible are for your actions, as well as other things.
Typically the reality of it is that we DO NOT really know the answers to these questions. I know I don’t, at least not to my satisfaction! We may have read the heuristics of some seemingly knowing poster on a forum, but is that really going to give us a clear and systematic sense of what the law of the legal jungle in which we operate may be? Not when the adrenaline is flowing! The district attorney is not going to care what we say we read on the internet, nor is our lawyer as we pay his fee or the judge and jury as they decide our fate.
So, what to do if we do want to be aware of our legal environment?
Funny you should ask 😉
As some of you may know, a long, long time ago in a universe far, far away for one year (1982) I was an attorney in Washington DC where I did first year associate drone work for a law firm that had absolutely nothing to do with criminal law– so my formal connection with law in general and criminal law in particular, is essentially that of a semi-educated layman. Of course, the effects of that education and experience linger and given my current line of work it is only natural that I have been paying attention to these self-defense legal and criminal law issues along the way.
It is from that perspective that I say that I have found what I am going to use in my own life from here forward. It is a book called Self Defense Laws of All 50 States by Attorney Mitch Vilos and Evan Vilos.
In my opinion, this book is simply outstanding. As the attorney that I am (technically speaking I still am one, albeit “inactive status” for the last 29 years) I appreciate the thorough nature of the work that has gone into this book. The citations of legal authority readily enable well targeted additional research, should, God forbid, such become necessary. The quality of the citations also give me confidence in the quality and level of research that has gone into this book.
Although the statutes and citations are present, the deeper worth of the book can be found in the simple yet suitably nuanced examples that effectively communicate to real people wanting a practical sense of the laws and rules appreciate. This is much more than “here’s the statute and a simple explanation that is so vague as to be useless”.
For example, in my home state of California simply reading the statute would give the impression that I was in 19th century Texas, but with commendable thoroughness the authors go beyond the statute itself to explain how the real standards applied to your behavior are to be found in the jury instructions. In other words, as part of doing the work they realized that California required something more and different for the reader to get a good sense of the true reality.
In all states various sample stories are given to illustrate the laws and questions presented; my sense of things is that without compromise in quality of analysis, the material is readily understood by real people. I would add that in contrast to other articles and books I have seen wherein the author is rather prissy, these authors seem to me to be quite comfortable with the idea that some good people have guns and knives and that there are situations where that is a good thing.
After a few broad overview chapters, each chapter is dedicated to a particular state and answers the same matrix of questions.
Thus no matter the state, the matrix is the same. This is very valuable- our knowledge instead of being random, now becomes systematic! If I am going on a trip to a certain state, all I need to do is read that chapter and I will be informed as to the laws of the legal jungle in which I will be! Furthermore simply reading the material is a good exercise in clarifying your own thinking and thinking about things that may not have otherwise occurred to you.
As you may have noticed, we do not clutter our catalog with lots of items. If something is there, it is there for a reason. I was so impressed with this book that I called up author Mitch Vilos and told him about who we are and how we look to help people walk as warriors for all their days. I am delighted to report that we now offer it in our catalog for $30.
I know $30 can seem like a lot of money for one book, but I would point out that this book is, in considerable measure, a labor of passion by two men who want you to know your rights and to avoid the abundant pitfalls faced by those of us who look to take responsibility for the defense of ourselves, our family, and the innocent. As you can imagine, the work going into getting all 50 States in one coherent, well-organized, well-told book is considerable and the volume of sales is such that the price is what it is–which in my opinion is quite a bargain in terms of what is delivered.
Learn the law of where you live, work, study, and play. Have it on your shelf for reference before you travel. This too is part of walking as a warrior for all your days.