Here’s the situation.  You and your spouse (or friend, or co-worker, or whoever you know well enough to travel with) are temporarily staying in a condo rented from friends.  It is evening, and you are both, in different rooms, getting ready to turn in for the night.  Suddenly you hear a crashing sound, like someone breaking in!

What would you do?  Would you and your companion be able to help one another, or would the entire burden of dealing with the situation fall on just one of you?  Would you act as a team, or would you get in each other’s way like a Marx Brothers movie?

In the article on Learning from Other People’s Mistakes elsewhere in this issue, we can see how easy it is for even well-practiced individuals to make grave tactical errors when confronting new situations.  Having another person around, who is supposed to be on your side in a fight, can greatly increase the chances for lethal mistakes, simply because most defensive gun owners practice, mentally and physically, for a confrontation in which they face the bad guy(s) alone.  Hardly anyone ever practices with a partner.

So, this year, the National Tactical Invitational (NTI) match described in that companion article features a new event for couples.  Not necessarily married couples, but any pair of people who might find themselves together in a situation where something bad might happen.  Six very brave pairs of people shot this new event;.  two of those teams were Martha and Bill Chiarchiaro, and Chris and Fred Adyelotte..

What does working as a team mean?  Practice, practice, practice.  Just as you would never want to play a soccer championship with “teammates” you met on the field for the first time on the day of the big match, you should never have to go into a life-or-death struggle with a teammate you’ve never practiced with.

Even if both of you are, individually, accomplished shooters and savvy tacticians, this does not guarantee that two will be better than one when it comes to a life-threatening situation.  Be honest, now — — how many friends or “bonded pairs” that you are potentially part of have actually TALKED about what to do in a variety of dangerous situations, or PRACTICED them?

Practice in Advance

Knowing that they would be expected to go through several NTI stages as a couple, Martha Chiarchiaro, a Human Resources professional in a large medical center and her husband Bill, an engineer, prepared assiduously in advance..

They discussed what to do if either one of them was taken hostage  – wisely, they didn’t assume the woman will be the hostage and the man the rescuer!

They talked about the kinds of things you and your partner may also need to communicate (not just verbally, but with hand signals for the dark or situations requiring quiet) including:

  • Direct your attention to …this.
  • Move (which direction?)
  • Get out of here NOW!
  • Take the lead now. (or, I’ll take the lead now)
  • I’m in trouble (gun jam, etc.); cover or help me.
  • … and so on

What if if the situation requires quiet? They worked out hand signals to convey all of those things, so they wouldn’t have to talk or shout.

If you and your partner are doing this kind of rehearsal, you need to decide whether you are more comfortable using plain language for these sorts of communications, or code words.  Will you practice enough to be sure, really sure, you will remember the code words under stress?

Martha and Bill practiced moving around their home, without guns.  Communication, and awareness of where the other person is at all times, constitutes teamwork, and they have it!

Two guns, or one?

Martha and Bill also talked about whether Martha should go armed into the couples event.  While she did not normally carry in public, there would obviously be more options for handling situations if she and Bill both had guns.  Finally, she decided not to carry a gun in this particular event, to maximize the realism of the experience for them.

In their first scenario, they were in the situation described at the beginning of this article.  They were house sitting, so they knew the general layout of the place, but were not in their own home.  Bill was in bed with his flashlight and gun in a box nearby; Martha was in the bathroom.

Suddenly, they heard a loud noise that sounded like a shot, and two unfamiliar voices talking with one another.  Two intruders were in the next room!

Bill quickly retrieved his gun and flashlight, and fired two shots at one of the intruders as he tried to get into the bedroom.  Bill grabbed his gun and flashlight, and with a brief burst of light saw one of the intruders, armed.  Bill fired twice, and saw him go down.  Bill had the presence of mind to yell to Martha that he was OK, in case she had heard the shots and thought he was dead or injured.  (Later, they found out that Martha hadn’t heard him.)

The couple decided to move toward the door, and immediately faced a dilemma.  They knew that there was probably one armed intruder behind them, and anything, or anyone, could be in front.

So, with one armed and one unarmed defender, which one should go in front?  Bill, with the gun to face the unknown while Martha stayed partly turned to be alert to the person behind them?  Or unarmed Martha heading first into unknown, possibly empty areas, while Bill with the gun covered the area where at least one of the intruders was known to be?

In the end, Bill went first, and they got out of the building unharmed, but this is the kind of dilemma that a 2-gun family doesn’t have to face.

While trying to get out of the building, they experienced what Bill calls “a classic NTI moment — when you realize you are doing something wrong, but are powerless to stop yourself.”  In this case, because they both had flashlights, they had to speak to one another a lot to coordinate turning the lights on and off, to avoid illuminating themsleves too much.  This was an aspect of tactics that they hadn’t considered in advance, had not trained for, and had not incorporated into their communication patterns.

“This was one of the most taxing and stressful exercises I’ve ever done,” Bill said later.  Martha, following up in her usual practical fashion, immediately purchased her own gun lock box when she got home after the NTI, so she will always have her loaded gun at the ready when she is at home!

Frightening with Quiet

Chris and Fred Aydelotte, both OC and firearms instructors, found the couples event the highlight of the whole match.

Let Fred describe one of the couples scenario that he and Chris experienced.   “We were in a rented condo on the first night of our vacation.  I was in the bedroom sleeping while Chris was in the bathroom.  Our guns were at the bed side.  There was a loud noise, possibly a gunshot, maybe the door being kicked in.  Chris had taken her flashlight to the bathroom with her because she was unfamiliar with the condo’s layout and didn’t want to turn on the lights and wake me up.

At the noise Chris immediately ran back to the bedroom and in the process determined that there were at least two intruders in the condo.  As she entered the room I handed her her gun.  We took cover by the bed and remained silent.  One of the intruders yelled out that they just wanted the jewelry and did not intend to hurt anyone.  We continued to maintain our silence.

The bad guy then repeated several times that they just wanted the jewelry and that we should lay on the bed and not resist.  Still we said nothing!  By this time the bad guys were getting nervous because of our silence and one of them bolted for the door.  We let him leave unmolested.

Chris told the remaining bad guy to take the stuff and leave.  He repeated his demand that we lay on the bed.  At this point I told him to “Leave or we will kill you”.  He fired two shots at me and missed.  Convinced that he had hit me, he repeated his demand that we lay on the bed while he robbed the place.  We remained silent for the duration of the scenario.”

Chris and Fred got out of that one unscathed.  During the debrief the role players said that they were really spooked by the eerie, ominous silence coming from the room where they knew the armed couple was ensconced.

What Can You Do?

Talking about strategy (overall goals) and tactics (specific actions to attain those goals) is a wonderful way to start turning two individuals into a team.  Besides, it is fun to figure out what might happen and what you would do about it.

Remember, you spend lots of time with people other than your spouse.  A discussion about defensive strategies with a mall-shopping-friend could provide an opportunity to teach what you already know to someone who might then be able to help save your life!

This article first appeared in the Sep-Oct 1999 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright 1999 Lyn Bates