The American View: Ask First, Is This a Solution I Can Live With if Worse Comes to Worst?

Election Day 2020 is finally over and I could not be happier. To be clear, I’m not talking about the results of the election. What I’m deliriously happy about is that I worked the polls on Election Day and didn’t get murdered. I’m quite chuffed to not be dead (as far as I know, anyway). Let you think this is a purely political column, I assure you there’s a business tie-in. Promise. 

Intelligence sources predicted increased probabilities of violence at polling places in the weeks leading up to 3rdNovember. Recent American history has demonstrated that small numbers of unhinged extremists might be motivated by popular culture, political rhetoric, and/or social media disinformation operations to turn to violence to express their political and/or social views. 

We expected a spike in violence on Election Day proper. Fortunately, it didn’t manifest. Our polling station in Haltom City, Texas – a suburb of Fort Worth – served just shy of 500 voters over twelve hours and experienced only one incident: one voter arrived spoiling for a fight and attempted to provoke a conflict with the polling staff. The volunteers dispassionately refused to rise to the bait. The wannabe troublemaker cast his vote and left peacefully. Throughout the rest of the day, 95% of our voters were polite, calm, cheerful, gracious, mature, and an absolute joy to serve. That was the best-possible outcome we’d hoped for. [1]

Of course, the “election” isn’t really over until January. Experts at the Rand Corporation predicted that more acts of decentralized, “lone wolf” style violence might still occur up to and even after the inauguration. One peaceful day does notguarantee a peaceful season. There are still potential threats on the horizon. Most people I know would prefer that disgruntled extremists vent their frustrations solely inside the new Call of Duty title, but … this is America.  

The American ideal is the long hero cowboy: a completely fictional trope that’s been twisted so far from its origins as to become a cartoon character. 

That in mind, many of my friends have me for advice on purchasing their first firearm. Each requester’s motivation was the same: they’d read about the increased potential for domestic terrorism and want to protect themselves and their loved ones. I completely understand the sentiment. The police can’t be everywhere (assuming you trust the police to protect you) and America has more than its fair share of potentially violent and heavily armed criminals. I get it.

My friends ask me for my opinion on first-time firearm ownership because I’m retired military. I spent a quarter century training on and training others how to properly use deadly weapons. I’ve had my license to carry a concealed firearm since the law first allowed it in Texas. Most importantly, I can help people separate reality from the firearms myths they’ve seen on TV. 

I prefer to talk about the morality of wielding lethal force first: is the other person mentally and emotionally capable of taking a human life? Are they prepared to live with the consequences of their actions? How do they know? Once that subject has been broached, we talk about the risks associated with missing your target or shooting through your target and still hitting an innocent bystander. I believe strongly that the moral and ethical ramifications of firearms ownership must be addressed head-on before we ever talk about gear or tactics. 

This has caught some of my friends off-guard. One person joked that they’d expected me to be “gung-ho” on the subject; they’d come prepared for me to talk up some brand or other of pistol in the “macho banter” style of a testosterone-poisoned “buddy cop” movie. They were mistaken. I started my military career as a combat medic. Our training incorporated brutally graphic instruction on the effects of military ordnance on the human body. It’s not “little red dots” on a white shirt and some manly wincing. It’s not clean … and it’s never easy. 

I strongly urge my friends to not purchase a firearm or even fill out the concealed carry application until they’re sure that this is a path they’re determined to walk. If they’re serious about doing it, they need to commit to training extensively and taking complete responsibility for their actions.  

I’ve counselled my civilian friends that lethal force in any form is something one only employs deliberately, cautiously, as a last resort only … because there is no way to “take back” a mistake. Dead is dead. Real humans don’t shrug off gunshots or dive out of range of explosions. James Bond might have No Time to Die because he’s an idea, not a real person. The rest of us are far too easy to kill and the tragedy radiates out from every human loss to savage entire communities. Pornographic violence on the big screen can be entertaining; real violence is horrific. [2]

Responsible firearms ownership demands a huge increase in personal responsibility. Every time your weapon leaves its storage safe, it must be kept under complete control at all times. It must not be exposed or allowed to come into accidental contact with other people. It must be discharged only when necessary and only at its intended target … always with the clear understanding that there will be a police investigation afterward and the judgment for every mistake made. That’s the minimum required performance standard. Anyone who is unwilling to commit to that level of diligence should not, I believe, own a firearm at all, let alone carry one for personal defence. 

That’s my personal standard. Texas has adopted a … let’s say … “more casual” philosophical position. As an example, please consider the story of the local pistolero who was shot by his own dog.

On Election Day, Teri Webster of the Dallas Morning News published a piece titled “Dog shoots Plano man in the leg (yes, you read that right).” I swear I’m not making this up. Teri recounted a social media post from the Plano, Texas Police Department posted on 2nd November recounting the misadventures of a local citizen who … *sigh* … You Know what? Let’s just let them tell it:

“Imagine having your pistol tucked inside your waistband and while picking up your dog, a paw gets lodged in the trigger and fires the weapon, sending a bullet into and through your thigh. Well, that happened here in Plano.”

Just thinking about it makes most grown men wince in sympathy. 

To quote the 2004 comedy Mean Girls, I can’t even. There is so much wrong – both stated and implied – in this short post that I can’t articulate how incredulous and angry it makes me. 

A responsible pistol owner does not ever “carry” a firearm tucked into a belt or waistband. That’s completely insecure and it leaves the pistol’s trigger exposed. The weapon can shift, drop onto the floor … or get activated by a rowdy dog, apparently. Sure? Why not? Aaaaargh! 

The unnamed gentleman spotlighted by the article got off lucky, in that he only suffered a scar and some possible permanent muscle, nerve, sinew, and/or circulatory damage in his leg. He’ll probably walk it off … eventually. Had there been another human being in the bullet’s path of travel, however (or if the bullet’s path had taken it through the man’s femoral artery), the consequences of the slipshod holstering would have been catastrophic and irreversible.

You might well comment “This is all very interesting in the abstract, Keil, but here in the UK we have much stricter firearms laws that you lot have in the U.S.A., so this isn’t particularly germane to us. Also, this topic doesn’t seem particularly business-related.” That would be fair. I submit, however, that there’s an essential takeaway lesson here that applies directly to businesspeople everywhere, and it has everything to do with properly understanding the solutions people and organisations attempt to implement in response to existential challenges. 

The essential function of businesspeople is to solve problems. Our role is to create a new product, or increase profits, or decrease losses, or whatever. Oftentimes in the twenty-first century, we solve our problems with the introduction of new technology or the evolution of existing technology rather than by throwing more labour at an issue until it goes away. I know, I know … “Duh!” That seems obvious. Why state it? 

 “Would you like to point out that water is wet next?”

Why? Because people being people, we – all of us – usually don’t completely understand the ramifications of what we’re getting into when we design a new process or purchase a new tool to accomplish a critical objective. When we implement someone else’s “best practice,” we’re trusting that whoever implemented it first has already worked out the bugs and made sure the solution not only works but works better than all possible alternatives. That “trust factor” can kill us: We don’t yet know everything that can go wrong, especially when the customers or end users get a hold of it. 

When people have come to me to discuss purchasing their first firearm as a best-of-breed solution for protecting themselves from the predicted pre- and post-election terrorism threat, I challenge them to consider the larger picture first. To understand all their options. These have all been educated, thoughtful people. They appreciated that they faced an existential threat; one that they believed they were incapable of completely evading. Therefore, they wanted to implement a solution that American culture has loudly declared to be the best possible solution. Remember NRA Chief Wayne LaPierre’s infamous slogan “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” American myth’s lionize firearms ownership and use as the ultimate expression of masculinity and parental responsibility. Naturally, an American who was personally unfamiliar with the good-guy-with-a-gun solution” would seek to adopt it.

That, in turn, is why I start all discussions about potential firearms purchase – especially those for “self-defence” – with calm discussions about morality, ethics, and consequences. Yes, a firearm can in the right circumstances be an effective solution. That being said, determining whether or not the totality of circumstances meet the harsh requirements for allowable use can be extremely difficult, especially in the heat of the moment. At the same time, the cost of making the wrong decision in such chaotic circumstances can be ruinous to everyone involved. Yes, it’s a viable solution for some use cases, provided that extensive controls are in place to minimize the probability of making an irreversible mistake. As solutions go, this isn’t one to make lightly or to impalement with the sort of flashy cavalier disregard for consequences shown in movies. 

The same principles can be applied to technology and business solutions in the workplace. No, burning hundreds of millions of quid on a botched ERP implementation probably won’t cost a human life … but it may well kill your company, destroy your people’s careers, bankrupt your investors, or tank your market value. Pursuing an unfamiliar solution for a serious business threat without being fully cognizant of the potential risks and consequences can put a business into an untenable situation … one they can’t back out of and can’t recover from. 

Can the abandoned physical structures left behind after a business is liquidated count as organ donations since they might help save a dying entity? Seems like there might be an interesting PhD dissertation study there …

That’s the takeaway, business friends: before you commit to adopting a risky new solution, talk it through with someone experienced in it first. Make sure you fully appreciate the potential ramifications of your proposed course of action while there’s still time to reconsider. Long before you “talk technology,” examine and understand your personal and organisational values. Consider the potential risks with the same dispassionate rigour as you consider the potential gains. How likely is the solution to solve the problem? How likely is it to introduce unacceptable outcomes? Can you live with the worst-case scenario? Bluntly, are you willing to bet your organisation’s life on it?

The answer might be “yes” … and that’s okay. Balancing your risk appetite with the probability and severity of risks and consequences is what senior leaders are paid to do (it’s not all board meetings and cocktail parties). Some risks are worth accepting and some consequences are worth paying given the totality of circumstances. The key is to make a fully-informeddecision, free from illusions and assumptions. 

In my conversations with friends, some chose to move forward with their firearms purchase. Others reconsidered. The point was, they thought their decision through and made a rational, considered decision. They didn’t adopt a grossly oversimplified “solution” because it seemed to be the obvious option. They sought out sound advice first from someone who’d already gone down that path and strove to appreciate the factors that hadn’t yet considered. Surely, we can just as responsible at work when the stakes aren’t nearly so high. 


[1] Aside from not contracting COVID-19, which is the focus of an entirely different column

[2] One of my sociology professors operationally defined the term thusly many years back: “If ‘pornographic sex’ is sex without love, ‘pornographic violence’ is violence without pain.”

Pop Culture Allusion: Cary Joji Fukunaga, No Time to Die(2021 film)

© Business Reporter 2020