Alaskans weigh self-defense options amid rising crime rates
If someone broke into your home right now, what would you do? Do you have a plan to stop an intruder? What type of force would you use?
These are the questions safety experts say people should know the answers to. In this special report, KTVA's Joe Vigil breaks down your options for self defense.
Alaskans continue to be frustrated with the amount of crime in the state. Many are turning to state and local government leaders to come up with solutions, while others have taken their own steps to fight ongoing crime.
Criminal Records and Identification Bureau Chief Kathryn Monfreda has compared Alaska to other states, saying it leads in several main violent and property crime categories.
Officials tracked a 20 percent increase in reported murders between 2016 and 2017, along with a 40 percent increase in vehicle theft. According to Monfreda's presentation last fall, the rape rate in Alaska was 249 percent higher than the national rate. The assault rate in Alaska is 131 percent higher than the national rate while the total reported property loss for burglaries in 2017 was more than $10.4 million.
The decision whether to use lethal or non-lethal measures to stay safe is a very personal choice. Firearms instructors say both options have one thing in common when it comes to personal safety.
"The plan itself is more important than any tool you'd ever choose. Without a plan the tool is ineffective," Sarah Stallone, a firearms instructor and owner at Accurate Advantage, said.
Stallone and firearms instructor Robert Gunther recently discussed the responsibilities of owning a gun and other options when it comes to self defense. They say gun owners will have to make quick decisions if someone, for example, breaks into their home.
"Gathering to a safe room for instance would allow you to understand whether the intent of that break-in was for your things or for you," Stallone said. "Should that person or people, should those people continue to follow you into that safe space that you've created, you know the intent was on your life or potential bodily harm to your family members."
Firearms instructor Robert Gunther says you always have to identify what you're shooting at to avoid mistakes.
"A high schooler sneaks out at 11 o'clock, out of the house and they're coming back at two in the morning and they make some noise," he said. "And then dad or parents or uncle, whomever, gets up and just points in the direction of said noise and just lets them have it. It's a horrible, horrible tragedy and we hear about that stuff all the time."
Gunther also responded to a question that firearms instructors hear all the time. Should someone shoot to kill or wound someone?
"Somebody will get shot in the arm and they'll give up. Win. There's no need to continue filling this person with bullets. They're done. It's over. So are we," he said. "So the goal is not to kill. The goal is to stop the threat. If death is a byproduct of that so be it."
Stallone says they teach students about layers of defense in the home.
"What's around you? What options do you have," he said. "Can you throw hot cooking grease? Is there a knife handy? Is there a chair you could throw? Are there layers of defense that you could try, either in that fight to that gun or on the way to the location of that firearm."
Along with a home safety plan, Stallone and Gunther advocate for a lot of gun training. They say it's not uncommon for people to buy a gun without training.
Alternatives to firearms
Many families may choose to not have a firearm in the home for self defense.
"We highly encourage, if you're a person that chooses pepper spray for defense, that you put these all over your house. You don't know where you may be when you might need one," Stallone said. "There are clips you can buy to have this mounted next to your door. You could have it in a drawer in the kitchen. You could put it in a desk."
Stallone says it's important to keep in mind that pepper spray could be deadly for a child or person with respiratory issues if they inhale it.
Other options that could be helpful in an attack include a stun gun and a powerful flashlight.
Stallone says the sound of a stun gun might be enough to stop an attack. Gunther says blinding an attacker with a bright flashlight might give people the chance to get away from an attacker.
"Hit the car alarm. Turn on that alarm. Alert the neighbors that something's not okay at your house," Stallone said.
Stallone says car keys can also help you get away from an intruder. She suggests keeping car keys in a designated safe room, such as a bedroom.
"If you have the ability to leave, you have your car keys with you. There's another degree of separation you can create between yourself and that threat," she said.
Gunther says it's also important to remember to call police if you can. He says you may not be able to stay on, but you can call 911 and drop the phone. He says that way police will be able to know something is happening and respond to your emergency.
Both instructors stress that people should have a safety plan for their home, one that is communicated to all family members and one that can be practiced.
When 55 year old Chris Kehoe isn't enjoying the outdoors in the valley, you will find her in an Anchorage gym working on skills to fight off a potential attacker.
"I was a victim of domestic violence in my early 20s, by my boyfriend actually," she said.
The owners of the gym say they've seen a spike in students in the last six months because of crime that's happening in Anchorage.
"Krav Maga is self preservation," Cory Davis, who owns the Krav Maga operation with his wife Sheena, said.
Davis' website says that "Israeli Krav Maga is the Israel Defense Force's official self-defense and close-quarters-combat system." He says they teach skills that include hand to hand fighting, fighting against multiple opponents and disarming someone, but the key factor is situational awareness.
"If I can avoid something then I have no problem crossing the street," Davis said. "I don't have no ego. But if you don't leave me a way out them I'm going to go until you're no longer a threat."
He also talked about the intensity of the training.
"It would be fictional if I sat there and said everything it pretty," he said. "Violence is not pretty and that's how come it's a last resort."
Krav Maga student Craig Hasund gave a similar example of simply walking across the street to avoid someone who may make people feel uncomfortable.
"And to me that's more important or equally as important as being able to do something if someone does attack you," he said. "Because you just avoided a whole situation so you don't have to get in a fight. You don't have to defend yourself. You don't have to worry about all that kind of stuff because you recognized it early enough to just walk away."
Kehoe says she was afraid for a long time after her domestic violence incident.
"It shakes you up. To have somebody that you love, or thought that loved you, beat you," she said.
She visits the gym several times a week.
"I think if we ever use what we learn here it's in defense of our life or our loved ones," she said. "The same way you wouldn't brandish a gun in a regular altercation. You just would use the same principals there."
Kehoe calls Krav Maga her "new love," and will continue going to classes.
"I'm not going to get beat, at least not without a fight," she said.
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