How the Cooper Color Code Explains 'Stand Your Ground,' and Prevents Crime

Colonel Jeff Cooper provided a color code of mental awareness, which has been adopted by Front Sight in Pahrump, Nevada.  None of the following constitutes legal advice, but it is easy to see how this color code goes well beyond debunking the myth that "stand your ground" laws turn streets into free-fire zones.  Its diligent application also prevents much, if not most, violent street crime even without the display or possession of a weapon.

Condition White means a person is daydreaming, talking on a cell phone, or is otherwise unaware of what is going on around him or her.  Criminals love to catch victims in Condition White because the usual result of a surprise attack is total paralysis.  Many carjacking victims are shot not because they resist, but because they freeze so thoroughly that they cannot even obey the robber's order to surrender the vehicle.

It is noteworthy, by the way, that the Nazis were able to murder upward of 10 million people at a relatively low cost to their own lives (the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was one of the few exceptions) by keeping them collectively in Condition White.  Jews and other victims were not told they were being taken to extermination camps; they were told they were being "relocated."

Meat-packing factories may similarly use an animal known as a Judas goat -- a trained member of the same species that is to be slaughtered.  Its presence keeps the victims in Condition White until it is too late for them to realize what is happening to them.

Humans, and possibly domestic livestock, are the only animals that live even part of their lives in Condition White.  All wild animals live their entire lives in Condition Yellow, and law enforcement experts suggest that law-abiding people should do so as well.

Condition Yellow is a prudent level of vigilance, and this vigilance stops many potentially deadly confrontations before they even begin.  This is because there is not much difference between the decision processes that criminals and predatory animals use.  If a carnivore wins a fight, he gets a meal.  If a criminal wins a fight, he gets the victim's property, or the enjoyment of a sexual assault.  In either case, however, the attacker cannot risk anything but the most trivial injuries. If the predatory animal is hurt badly in a fight, the meal it just killed will be its last, because it will be unable to catch another.  No rational criminal wants to get hurt, either, and even a non-fatal gunshot wound will almost certainly lead to an arrest.  No rational criminal will therefore attack somebody who is in Condition Yellow; he does not know for sure that even a smaller and physically weaker victim won't do him some damage.

Pearl Harbor was obviously not caught in Condition White on December 7, 1941.  A military base is always at no less than Condition Yellow because there are always sentries and lookouts, and Pearl Harbor also had a rudimentary radar system.  The Japanese attack succeeded because the base did not go to Condition Orange when the radar operators saw things of whose identity they were uncertain.

Condition Orange means the identification of a potential threat -- a situation that "makes you uncomfortable."  There is probably a good reason for this; our instincts, like those of all other animals, evolved to prevent us from becoming meals.  Condition Orange is what police instructor Massaad Ayoob calls "bare fear," as opposed to "reasonable fear."  You are justified in taking countermeasures to avoid the situation in question.  You are emphatically not justified in even drawing a gun, much less aiming it at somebody, in Condition Orange.

I personally encountered an excellent Condition Orange simulation at Luzerne County Community College's Public Safety Institute.  I confronted, while holding a handgun simulator at the ready position (drawn but not aimed), a Caucasian version of Trayvon Martin who was acting suspiciously in the wrong neighborhood.  He suddenly reached behind his back, drew a knife, and lunged at me.  The computer determined that he reached me before I could aim and fire, which I did the instant he began his attack.  (In practice, he had not done anything previously to even justify drawing a gun on him, which meant I had an advantage that a police officer or armed citizen would not have had in reality.)  The lesson is, therefore, to put as much distance as you can between yourself and a suspicious individual even if you are armed.  He can otherwise bring a knife to a gunfight, and win.

If Condition Orange is the rustling in the woods that tells you a wolf might nearby, Condition Red means you can see the wolf.  This is the condition that the law calls reasonable fear, and under which you may be justified in drawing a firearm.  It is at this point that you decide, "If he does so-and-so [which is a direct threat to your life or that of another person], I will have to use a weapon, or a potentially lethal martial arts technique."

Condition Black, as used by Front Sight, means the assailant has just done so-and-so.

To recap:

  • Condition Yellow keeps you, and the would-be criminal, out of trouble by deterring all but the most vicious or deranged assailants.  In the latter case, Condition Yellow gives you time to react.
  • Condition Orange is "bare fear," or, to use the words of Barack Obama and other critics of stand your ground laws, "you feel threatened."
  • Condition Red means that the law's ideal "reasonable person" knows that his or her life is in danger.  Only at this point does "stand your ground" become operational.

The Cooper Color Code applies comprehensively only to situations in which you are outside your house: a place in which it is reasonable, and necessary for eight or so hours per day, to be in Condition White.  We are helpless when we sleep, and horror/slasher movie producers include victim-in-the-shower scenes because we are equally helpless while we bathe.  Most real people do not carry guns into the bathtub or shower, unless they are Tuco Ramirez or Big Jake.  Even carrying a gun in your home, which few people really want to do, won't help if you are asleep.

This underscores the need for ample reaction time in the event of a violent home invasion, and the truth is that burglars can kick in a door with even a deadbolt lock if the strike plate is not anchored into the wall stud.  You can buy, and for less than ten dollars, strike plates (e.g. Gatehouse) with long screws that do go all the way into the stud.  Other off-the-shelf security solutions, such as Nightlock, are available.

William A. Levinson, P.E. is the author of several books on business management including content on organizational psychology, as well as manufacturing productivity and quality.  (Nothing in this opinion piece constitutes engineering advice, or professional security advice.)

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