For the third year in a row, I gave a disaster preparedness presentation to the incoming first year class at American Film Institute. These 200 or so aspiring film makers come from all over the world, and it’s important they all understand how to prepare and cope with a major disaster such as an earthquake.

During the Q&A session, a woman from Australia asked if she should purchase a firearm to defend herself in the event someone tries to steal her supplies during potential civil unrest and chaos after a significant earthquake. She prefaced the question with the disclaimer, “I know this is a stupid question, but…”

I’ve been asked this question a lot over the years and it’s anything but stupid.

As I said to these students, for better or worse and without any judgement, the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution grants individuals the right to possess and carry firearms. Unfortunately, not everyone who exercises their Second Amendment rights is a law-abiding citizen with the best of intentions. It is not inconceivable that after a major earthquake, the situation for those who aren’t adequately prepared might become desperate enough for them to try and use force to take needed supplies from those who have them.

The decision how vigorously to defend your possessions is entirely a matter of individual choice. As you weigh various factors in your decision, consider the following study conducted in 2008 by the Rand Corporation which looked at officer-involved shootings in the New York Police Department between 1998 and 2006. When suspects did not return fire, police hit their targets a meager 30% of the time. In incidents where suspects returned fire, the hit rate plummeted to a paltry – and scary, 18%. Think about that for a moment. Over a 9 year period, with thousands of shots fired during that time, highly trained police officers only hit their intended targets less than 1 out of 5 times. According to an LAPD spokesman, these averages are about the same for Los Angeles police officers. That’s below the Mendoza Line. But these are potentially life and death situations we’re talking about, not something as frivolous as baseball.

So am I writing all this to disparage police officers as guys who can’t shoot straight? Not at all. In fact, the NYPD apparently has some of the most comprehensive and sophisticated firearms training of any police force in the country, using a combination of live fire, non-lethal force and simulated scenarios.

What it means is that all bets are off when it’s a real life stress situation. It’s not like the movies. Not even close. Even the performance of highly trained law enforcement professionals is severely impacted under stress. Imagine how the average person without any high level training in the use of firearms in a stress situation will perform. My concern is people will end up harming themselves or someone other than their intended target.

One thing we can all do is encourage our neighbors and others to purchase supplies and prepare to go without assistance for a week or more. The more people who are prepared, the fewer people who will feel the need to take from others.

The choice is yours. If you do decide to arm yourself, please be sure at a minimum to take a gun safety course, requalify on the use of your firearm periodically, and take all necessary precautions to prevent its unauthorized use.