Many of you know me personally. I would like to think that those of you who fall into that category see me as a fairly level-headed individual (or at least that’s what I strive for… it can be a challenge sometimes). I’m also a big supporter of the Second Amendment and I carry pretty much everywhere I legally can. I’m sure that this is a fairly common attitude amongst our members and friends, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise even to those who haven’t personally met me yet. Well, I’d like to take a moment to present you all with a scenario that actually happened to a friend of mine, and a few theoretical scenarios based on it. Hopefully, it makes at least some of you think for a moment.
Almost a year ago, a friend of mine was a victim of an armed robbery at a convenience store. He was unarmed and alone, and was accosted as he was leaving the store. Everything worked out alright, and all he lost was a few credit cards. After the fact, he approached a few of us and asked what we would do, as armed citizens, if faced with a similar situation.
This is a question that, I would hope, anyone who has ever chosen to get their carry permit has asked themselves. In fact, it’s a question that I re-ask myself pretty much every day. Maybe not in so much detail, but I consider the possible ramifications of being armed every time I pick up a weapon… so basically every day. Despite that, the question posed by my friend wasn’t as easy to answer as one might think.
I’ve discussed the proposed eventuality with numerous people in the months since, and a disturbing number of those people (many of whom are every-day carriers themselves) responded with nothing more than “I’d shoot them!” or something along those lines. But wait… that makes sense, right? What’s so disturbing about a legally armed citizen using their weapon in self-defense? I mean, if you aren’t willing to use it, you probably have no place carrying a weapon, right? Wrong. Or, at least, incomplete. If your first instinct when you see a probable threat is to reach for your weapon, I’d strongly advise that you hold off on carrying until you’ve at least finished reading this article.
It’s 2am. I’m the only customer at the counter in a local convenience store. I’ve been coming to this convenience store for years… it’s just a few blocks from home and is… well… convenient. As a result, the clerk and I are good friends, so I’m hanging out talking to her. I’m not in any real rush anyway. Another customer enters the store and starts wandering around, nothing out of the ordinary. A few moments later, something is pressed into the center of my back and a voice instructs me to hand over my wallet and demands that my friend empty her register.
So what are my options? I can hand over my wallet, as asked. Chances are, the robber isn’t interested in adding two counts of murder to his rap sheet; he’s just a punk kid out for a few bucks. What do I stand to lose? If he takes my wallet, I’ll probably lose a few credit cards (easily cancelled), some cash (not much… I don’t keep a lot of money on me), and my ID (easily replaced). Once I’ve handed over my wallet, I can (and should) call 911. I shouldn’t chase down the criminal, that will only escalate the situation. At this point, he isn’t a direct threat, so forcing an armed confrontation now will make me criminally liable. Instead, observe what I can and relay it to the police… it’s their job to handle crime, not mine.
Or, I can go for my weapon. I’m carrying a Springfield XDs chambered in 9mm at 4 o’clock. The robber hasn’t noticed it, and it’s near the pocket where my wallet sits… which he wants me to produce anyway. It wouldn’t be hard to go for the weapon, right? But… there’s the small issue of the fact that his weapon (or at least what appears to be a weapon) is already in my back… I have to successfully draw my weapon, turn, line up a shot and pull the trigger. All he has to do is pull the trigger. At his range, aim is irrelevant. My chances of success are slim at best. Forcing an armed confrontation will most certainly result in a death… probably mine. At that point, the criminal has nothing else to lose, so the clerk (who is almost certainly unarmed… thanks corporate America) will likely get shot as well. Rather than a relatively minor theft, we’ve forced the situation into a double homicide.
It’s 2am. Again, I’m the only customer at the counter in my favorite convenience store. Again, I’m talking to my friend when another customer enters and starts wandering around the store. This time, it’s a young mother with a child. When she approaches the counter, I excuse myself and head to the restroom. No need to be in the way while she checks out.
While I’m in the restroom, the bell that indicates someone has entered (or exited) the store goes off. As I’m leaving the restroom, I see a man approaching the counter. He’s clearly agitated and wearing baggy, but otherwise nondescript, clothing (I promise, I’m not stereotyping). His hands are thrust deep in the pockets of his hoodie as he paces in front of the registers. Suddenly he, produces a gun and demands that the young mother hand over her purse, and the clerk empty her register. He hasn’t seen me yet. At this point, it seems like I’m in the perfect position to end the situation with a minimal loss of life, right? After all, the criminal has his back to me, I’m armed, he doesn’t know I’m there… I have the element of surprise. Wrong. Before I even think about going for my weapon, there are a number of things that I should do.
Regardless of what happens next, my first move is calling 911. If I can do so safely, I need to let them know what’s going on (don’t forget to tell them that you’re present and armed… don’t want to get shot by the cavalry if things go sideways). If I can’t let them know details, at the very least there’s an open line to emergency services (they can hear what’s happening and track the phone for a location).
In a perfect scenario, the victims will do as they are told, the criminal won’t notice me at all, and the scenario will end without any casualties. The police will deal with the aftermath (I was being observant, right?) and, hopefully, apprehend the criminal. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the scenario doesn’t play out ideally. The mother doesn’t hand over her purse quickly enough, the child is terrified and screaming, and the criminal is getting more agitated by the second. At this point, situational awareness is key.
Once I’ve made the determination that, more likely than not, the situation is escalating to the point of lethality, the first thing I MUST do is be aware of my surroundings. This can not be stressed enough. While the criminal at the counter hasn’t seen me, I should remember that, frequently, robberies are performed by pairs. If I immediately draw my weapon, and haven’t noticed the woman in the opposite corner of the store, I may get shot in the back for my trouble.
So… step one, put my back to the wall. If there is an accomplice in the store, backing away slowly shouldn’t draw their attention much. Backing away from confrontation is a natural response, but from this position I have narrowed my danger area from 360 degrees to 270 degrees (or even 90 degrees if I’ve put myself in an actual corner). Now I have a better chance of ensuring that any and all dangers are in my line of sight and I can adjust my plans accordingly.
For the purposes of this scenario, we’ll assume that the initial assumption was correct, there’s nobody else in the store. Has the criminal noticed me yet? What’s his visibility level? If he has seen me, can he see my whole body, or have I positioned myself such that all he can see is my upper torso? Can I safely draw my weapon? Ideally, I should be able to draw without broadcasting that I’m doing so. In other words, the less movement in my upper torso the better (I have practiced drawing, right?). What does my field of fire look like? In a high-pressure situation, the human body releases copious amounts of adrenaline and “tunnel vision” is common. Is the criminal between me and my friend? Me and the woman or her child? Is any of them in a position which will put them at an elevated risk if I open fire? My intentions may be good, but accidentally wounding or killing an innocent bystander is, at the very least, going to emotionally effect me and, more likely, land me in a LOT of legal trouble.
Even if I have a clear line of sight, and the innocent bystanders aren’t in any direct danger from me, there are still things things to think through… Escalation of force. If the criminal is branding a baseball bat, and I’m using a handgun, I’ve forced the situation to escalate to the level of lethality. Use appropriate force to deescalate the situation. If the criminal isn’t using a lethal weapon, neither should I. Unless… the situation has already escalated to the point of lethality. Much of the US considers a justifiable shooting to be one that prevents the death or grievous bodily harm of yourself or another. If the criminal is already wailing on someone with a baseball bat, that may be a justifiable shooting in my state. Can I safely deescalate the situation without lethal force (and without putting myself into undue danger)?
So let’s say that after thinking through all the variables, I’ve decided that lethal force is necessary. Let’s say that I’ve determined that I can safely deal with the threat without causing harm to the bystanders. Let’s say that I’ve actually reacted to the threat and successfully (safely?) shot the aggressor. What now? If I haven’t already called 911 (I should have, remember?), I should definitely do so now. Again, especially now that a shooting has occurred, I need to inform the dispatcher that I am carrying a weapon legally. I need to REHOLSTER MY WEAPON. If the police arrive and I’m standing over a body with a weapon drawn, I’m likely to be immediately seen as the aggressor, whether or not I am. In my case, I carry at 4 o’clock and keep my wallet in my right front pocket. Given the proximity of the wallet to my weapon, I’m going to probably want to get my wallet out before the police arrive. It’d suck to get shot while reaching for my ID.
Once the police arrive, they will confiscate my weapon(s). That’s OK. As long as the shooting was justified, I should get them back sooner or later. If the shooting wasn’t justified, confiscated weapons will be the least of my problems. They may also handcuff me while they secure the scene. That’s OK too… it’s for their safety. I’d probably do the same thing in their position… at least until I was sure the shooter was legit. I’m probably in for a long night and, quite probably, some emotional issues for a while, but I’ll survive. More importantly, the other victims in the store will survive. These days, even if the police rule the shooting justified, I may find myself in court in a civil suit, but that’s still better than being dead (I do have insurance… right?). Finally, I should remember that I HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT and I should exercise that right. Between the adrenaline, chaos and, let’s face it, having just shot someone, my perception (not to mention my coherence) may well be impaired. Saying the wrong thing now will at best complicate things, at worst make me sound at fault in a court of law.
Back to Reality
So… after all that, ask yourself how much of that have you actually thought through before now? If you already carry regularly, hopefully you’ve either already thought this through, or this scenario has caused you to think it through. If you don’t carry yet, but are planning on doing so in the future, start thinking it all through now. It can not be stressed enough that shooting a person is not the same as shooting a paper target. No matter how prepared you think you are, until you’ve actually been there you aren’t.
I like to think of myself as a fairly prepared person for that type of scenario. After all, I’ve put a lot of thought into it, I have a military background including time overseas in combat zones and, to this day, still train on a regular basis. However… outside of the military, I’ve never actually had to fire my weapon outside of the range. I have, however, had a few situations which required me to draw my weapon but which then deescalated without incident. Just to give you an idea of how a situation should go, I’ll outline two scenarios that I’ve actually survived.
Shortly after I started carrying in the civilian world, I found myself in the middle of an armed carjacking. I was with friends in another state after a work event, and we had just left a party at a local hotel. I was the designated driver so I was sober (and carrying). As I pulled up to the exit of the hotel garage, a young man approached the side of the vehicle and produced a weapon. It was a small handgun, probably a .380, and wasn’t actually pointed at me. When I’m on long road trips, I switch my normal sidearm for a full-size Springfield 1911 in a shoulder holster (it’s more comfortable and easier to access in a car), and in this case I did something pretty stupid and reacted without thinking the situation through. Thankfully, the kid decided that my weapon was more intimidating than his and ran off. It could have gone horribly wrong. In fact, it probably should have gone differently. There were other people in the vehicle whom I was responsible for, and the weapon was pointed in the general direction of my friends in the back seat through an open window. The fact that nobody got shot was pure dumb luck. To make matters worse, I jeopardized my life (and freedom) and the lives of my friends for a rental car. Thankfully, the police sided with me since no shots were fired, and I got away with nothing more than a reminder of how lucky I had been.
The second scenario I want to bring up was much more recent and (like the posited scenarios above) took place in a convenience store. A man walked in, I was in plain view near the counter, and he tried to buy alcohol at 3am. Around here, alcohol sales end at 1am. When the clerk refused to sell it to him, the man became agitated and started acting erratically. The clerk managed to make a discreet call to the police before the man walked back up to the counter and demanded that they sell him the alcohol. The clerk refused again, at which point the man approached me (though I was obviously just another customer and couldn’t sell him anything) and immediately physically assaulted me. I stepped behind the counter, such that the back was against the wall and the clerk was well to my right. The man turned back towards the clerk and displayed, but did not draw a weapon in an obvious threat to the clerk. Now, I expected the situation to escalate and stepped back further, putting the deli counter between myself and the aggressor so that I could draw my weapon without him seeing. Thankfully, before the situation escalated to the point where I felt there was an immediate threat, the aggressor heard the approaching police sirens and ran off. While we were able to provide the police with descriptions of both the man and his vehicle (as well as the store security tapes), he hasn’t yet been caught.
I am not a law enforcement officer or lawyer. The above scenarios and advice are my personal thoughts based on the training I have had and common sense and should not be taken as legal advice.