Understanding human behavior is a critical tool to developing an effective self-defense strategy, and nothing defines human behavior more than our almost total reliance on our eyes. The overwhelming majority of people navigate their surroundings almost exclusively using their sense of vision. Unlike other species that rely on a whole suite of senses to defend themselves, we devote most of our attention to what we see, and not what we hear or smell. It’s this reliance on sight that makes us afraid of the dark: When our primary sensory system is compromised by a lack of light, the result is sometimes panic.
In fact, we are so focused on sense of sight that we oftentimes overlook signals from our other senses that might warn us of danger. This reliance upon our sense of sight affects everyone—innocent civilians and dangerous criminals alike.
So, how can we use our species’ overwhelming reliance on our sense of sight to harden our defenses? Simple. The more control you have over the key component of vision the better your odds of surviving a deadly encounter. And what that key component is light.
Secret 1: Blinded by the Light
Flashlights and gun-mounted lights allow you to control the light wherever you are. To be clear, the flashlights to which I’m referring are tactical flashlights which have very high (200 or more) lumens and a strobe feature. You’re using these lights to disorient an attacker, after all, not retrieve a cell phone that has slipped under the seat of your car. You want this light to offer you a clear view of your surroundings while simultaneously overwhelming the attacker’s pupils.
Shrunken pupils make it more difficult for your attacker to see in low light, which is a major reason police approach stopped motor vehicles with their flashlight turned on. Ideally, in my opinion, every person should carry a bright tactical flashlight that they can quickly access, because a quick burst of blinding light just might be all that it takes to dissuade a potential threat from approaching you.
Many semiautomatic pistols and ARs—even some revolvers and shotguns—come equipped with accessory rails that allow you to attach a light to your firearm. The obvious benefit is that you have a light source attached to your firearm, which means you’ll never have to fumble for both a flashlight and a gun should you hear glass breaking in the middle of the night. Be aware, though, that wherever the light source points, so too does a loaded firearm.
Having a light accessible at all times is the easiest and most effective way to control the light, and since many deadly encounters happen in the dark, your tactical light should always be with you. There’s a notion (derived mostly from watching too many television crime dramas, I suspect) that having a light “gives away your position to the enemy,” but having the advantage of sight while robbing your attacker of their vision is the realistic goal, and that makes having a light worthwhile.
Secret 2: Lighting Your Home
Most children (and many adults) like to sleep with some sort of light source. There’s a very practical application for using night lights—you won’t slam your shin into the corner of your bed when you rise from sleep to relieve yourself, for one—but additional light also makes us feel better because we can see our surroundings. But here’s what you may not consider about turning lights on in your home: By doing so, you make it easy for anyone outside to see in, but virtually impossible for those inside the home to see out.
Am I suggesting that you spend every night in utter darkness for the sake of your personal safety? Not at all. You can illuminate your home without betraying all the movements inside the home to everyone in the outside world. First, place lights and lamps close to doors and windows. Doing so illuminates the interior of the home with enough light to see for the inhabitants, while making it more difficult to see the interior of the home from the outside. Also, if you want to keep lights on at night, use exterior lights. That not only makes it more difficult to see in, but illuminates the exterior of the home and exposes any movement near the house.
Secret 3: Seeing in Total Darkness
One of the greatest (and possibly least-heralded) advancements in personal protection is the availability of thermal imaging cameras. With thermal you have an enormous advantage over an attacker because you can see them without any ambient light at all. Thermal imaging used to be terribly expensive and the cost of the equipment limited its applications to corporations, the government and the very wealthy. Now, however, the technology from FLIR that turns your cell phone into a thermal device, FLIR ONE, costs about $300. That same technology would have cost over $10,000 a few years ago.
Handheld thermals allow you to monitor hundreds of yards inside and around your house (though they won’t work through glass, so you’ll have to open a window). You should be able to identify if it’s a trespassing attacker who’s trying to find a way into your home, or a trespassing raccoon trying to break into your garbage.
Aside from their FLIR ONE, FLIR also offers their Scout handheld thermal for about $600, and Pulsar’s pocket-sized Axion is available for under $2,000.
The upshot? Whether your personal defense strategy incorporates some equipment, lots of equipment or just a savvy understanding of how people work, always control the light.