While we try to keep Bearing Arms focused narrowly on firearms-related matters, the simple fact is that life is messy, there are many times where firearms are just one component part of other, larger situations.
The city of Berkeley, Missouri, sent out a warning to residents about the possibility of civil unrest once the grand jury decision into the shooting of Michael Brown has been released, and has suggested precautions that residents should take to ensure their safety. I suspect that similar notices are being issued by both companies and communities where the potential for rioting is elevated.
The Berkeley warning is rather generic, and reads as if it were written for a natural disaster, such as an expected snowstorm.
It advises residents to have plenty of bottled water on hand (a gallon per person, per day), several days worth of non-perishable food, and a full stock of medications (including prescription drugs). It advises to keep gas tanks in your vehicles filled, and your cell phones charged.
It also provides guidance on contingency planning that suggests normal travel may not be possible. All of this is solid advice.
Missing for this warning is the fact that we are not talking about an act of nature, but the possibility of a man-caused roaming disaster. Instead of ambivalent nature taking its course, the threat here is cognizant, and full of anger. The question is whether that anger will be focused or unfocused, and how it will be directed and contained.
The August riots in Ferguson were unfocused and relatively spontaneous acts of looting. We may expect the same sort of directionless and random rage if the grand jury declines to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, or if they opt to indict him on anything less than the murder charges that they insist must be.
There is the possibility, however, that some of the more calculating and malignant forces (there are anarchists and revolutionary groups known to be involved in Ferguson’s “riot prep,” and perhaps elsewhere) have put some thought into how to exploit the chaos of a riot to their advantage, and make things even worse.
There may be attacks on the electrical grid to plunge entire areas into darkness, with attacks on electrical substations, power lines, and transformers.
There may be scattered arson campaigns designed to stretch fire and police resources to a breaking point.
In a worst-case scenario, there may even be attempts to move rioting from the business districts (where riots typically occur) into residential neighborhoods.
While we think that the City of Berkeley has been more proactive than most in issuing this alert to residents, we feel that they simply lack the experience and context to give fully competent advice. The simple fact the matter is that very few Americans of this generation have seen a failure of civility.
While there is some memory of the 1992 riots, there have not been any realistic guidance issued to citizens anywhere on how to survive such events.
In addition to the list suggested in the link above, here is our advice on how to prepare your family for a worst-case, man-made disaster scenario in your town.
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- Plan to Shelter In Place. As a general rule of thumb, you are safer in your home than anywhere else you can possibly be. In your home you can stock adequate supplies, can find shelter from the weather, concealment from agitators, and in some structures (depending on construction), cover. Your home is your greatest asset, and contains the majority of what you need to survive. Plan on staying there and staying put unless the riot is going to spill over into your neighborhood, which is very unlikely. Ready.gov has a good general-purpose supply list that might aid in your planning (TXT | PDF).
Do not leave your home for any reason during riots short of an immediate and life-threatening emergency. People have stumbled into riots and have been hurt of killed when they made a wrong turn. Just ask Reginald Denny. We implore you to stay still, and stay safe.
- Communicate with your neighbors. It helps to know your neighbors, so if you can rely upon one another if you need to turn to one another for support. For example, it is nice to know that John down the street is a nurse, or that Naomi used to be a paramedic if a minor accident should occur.
- Have a fire extinguisher. While useless against larger structural fires or intentional arson attacks, fire extinguishers may be useful against the many kinds of smaller accidental fires people set while cooking, heating or attempting to provide light with candles, lanterns, or canned heat (such a Sterno) that they don’t typically use.As a corollary, do not use outdoor heating/cooking equipment indoors. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer.
- Have distractions to retain your sanity. If you have internet/television-addicted children and the power goes out, they are going to need something to occupy them when they can’t play Xbox or watch Netflix. While every kid is different, puzzles, board games, and books are good to have to entertain them. These things might not save your life, but they may save your sanity, especially in what is already a high-stress situation.
- Firearms. I really, seriously hope that you already have firearms, and that you have adequate training in their use. If you do not, now is not the time to buy them.
While firearms can be a great tool for self-defense, they require training to use them responsibly and effectively.
We may see “accidental” (negligent) shootings of family members from incompetent weapon handling and improper storage from new and scared gun owners, and possible illegal shootings from people who don’t understand self-defense laws involving firearms. While we would like to see all law-abiding, responsible, well-adjusted adults armed and trained to defend their families, that is something you should have already done.If you do have firearms, ensure that you understand the laws regarding their use, predetermine when and where they can be used in the self-defense of your family, and if at all possible, find lanes of fire where there is a solid backstop. If you are forced to fire, you are responsible for every bullet going downrange, including those that hit other homes.
There may be those among you with well-thought-out neighborhood protection plans (NPPs), with an actual defensive strategy, tactics, and a plan already plotted out, and I commend you for that. The majority of people, however, aren’t going to be that prepared.
For those of you who aren’t yet prepared, I hope that you will print out a copy of the Ready.gov list, add our suggestions, and do what you need to do.
We’re sincerely hoping that cooler heads will prevail and that there will not be any civil unrest as a result of the grand jury’s findings, but want to ensure that all our readers and their families are as safe as they can be.