If you’ve already read the first three portions of this series (available here, here and here), you have at least a basic background in the philosophical, theological and political implications of weapon ownership and use. This article concerns practical, moral and legal issues, as well as exploring some of the primary ways that carrying a concealed weapon must necessarily change one’s life. Keep in mind that I am not an attorney, and that you are responsible for becoming familiar with the law where you live and wherever you travel. But before we begin, for a humorous and accurate take on her rationale for carrying a concealed weapon, see my wise and delightful former co-blogger (at Confederate Yankee, now closed for all but archival access), Brigid’s post, here (copyright–HOTR, used by permission). An article I wrote–more in a serious vein–on the same topic may also be worth your time.
NOTE: A quick aside on the issue of carrying firearms while traveling. Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots was traveling through New York City on December 15, 2011. His handgun was unloaded and cased as federal law requires for airline travel. When he asked for a firearms declaration from an airline ticket agent so he could follow federal law to the letter, the NYC police arrested and jailed him for a felony violation of NYC’s firearm laws. Meckler’s case was eventually bargained down to an administrative violation, but NYC lawlessly refused to return his handgun. Read Meckler’s entire statement and understand that despite the Second Amendment, despite the Heller and McDonald decisions affirming it, some cities and states ignore the Constitution and will prosecute and persecute gun owners. Meckler is not the only law-abiding citizen recently caught up in this lawless web.
Walk down any street and take the time to assess the situational awareness of those you meet. What’s “situational awareness?” It’s a very familiar term to police officers, soldiers, and others who engage in risky, dangerous endeavors. Think of it as a heightened alertness combined with the ability to predict what might happen in any ;situation. Most people walk around in a fog, almost completely unaware of what is happening outside of their “personal space,” that bubble extending to arm’s length or less. It is this lack of situational awareness that helps killers fire many shots into crowds or classrooms before anyone is aware of what is happening. In the aftermath of such attacks, people often say: “I didn’t see it coming,” or “it all happened so fast.” That’s because most people lack situational awareness.
Those who have developed situational awareness know about what I speak. Every day, they walk among the vast majority of public and marvel at their lack of consciousness. A stunning example occurred in 2013 on a commuter train in San Francisco. On that day, a man shot and killed a university student. He chose him at random. But that’s not what’s stunning:
The man drew the gun several times on the crowded San Francisco commuter train, with surveillance video showing him pointing it across the aisle without anyone noticing and then putting it back against his side, according to authorities.
The other passengers were so absorbed in their phones and tablets they didn’t notice the gunman until he randomly shot and killed a university student, authorities said.
Before that moment, footage showed the man pull out the .45-caliber pistol and once wipe his nose with the hand holding the weapon…
See that man approaching you on the sidewalk? Notice that if he looks at you at all, it will only be, at best, a quick glance at your face. His mouth may turn up at the corners in a semi-smile, or it may not. Notice that no one looks up; virtually no one looks higher than the level of people’s faces. The next time you walk down a familiar downtown block in your community, concentrate on looking up. You’ll be amazed at the details you’ve missed. In the same vein, virtually no one looks behind them. Consider how vulnerable this lack of situational awareness makes people to two legged predators. This is one of the primary reasons they can be successful, for in truth, the Hollywood stereotype of the criminal mastermind is almost entirely fantasy. Most criminals are not bright, but many do possess a kind of animal cunning. In true, survival of the fittest style, criminals tend to prey on those who appear to be weak and/or distracted, hence, vulnerable. The ubiquity of smart phones has been a boon for criminals.
Consider too the calculation of predators. They focus on the weak and distracted, and by this, I mean physical weakness. Size, strength and gender matter. That’s why it is particularly important for women to read and carefully consider this series of articles. Women, because they are generally smaller, weaker and far less aggressive than men, are uniquely vulnerable to criminals. Do not, for a moment, doubt that criminals know this. They are anxious to exploit it. The possibility of rape–apart from the joys of assault, robbery, and other crimes common to both genders–is a bonus to many criminals. Given the opportunity during the commission of a burglary, carjacking, or other crime, some criminals will absolutely delight in rape.
The late Col. Jeff Cooper, firearms guru and founder of the Gunsite training facility, developed a color code system that is helpful in understanding this issue.
Code White: This is the level of situational awareness of most people, which is to say none at all. In this state, you are essentially unaware of what is happening outside your personal space. You cannot anticipate and identify potential danger and have virtually no chance of dealing with it effectively if it appears. Predators see you as a walking piece of meat wearing an enormous, flashing “eat me” sign. Think about how many smart phone zombies you see every day, and you understand the delight of criminals.
Code Yellow: This is the level anyone who does not want to be prey should adopt. It is the level you must adopt if you carry a concealed weapon. In this state, you have an enhanced level of awareness. While remaining relaxed, you are constantly on the lookout for potential danger. You have expanded your personal space far beyond arm’s length and are alert and prepared to avoid or confront danger. This level of awareness is not stressful and can be maintained day in and day out without danger of physical or psychological damage.
Code Orange: In this state, you have recognized an imminent potential threat. Say a man walking toward you suddenly thrusts his hand into his coat in the manner of someone reaching for a handgun in a shoulder holster. You immediately escalate from yellow to orange–until he pulls out a smart phone–allowing you to return to yellow. This state may or may not result in an adrenaline dump, but remaining in this state for long periods of time may be physically or psychologically harmful.
Code Red: In this state you have recognized a definite, imminent threat, but still have time to choose options. You approach your car in a parking garage to find several gang bangers lounging on the trunk lid. As they see you approach, they nudge each other, stand up, spread out, and one pulls a knife from his pocket while you see the others reaching into their pockets. They are grinning in anticipation. They think they’ve seen an easy mark approaching. You feel the heat of an adrenaline dump and have to make a decision: Flight or fight? Can you safely change direction and walk away without provoking a pursuit, or is a confrontation unavoidable? If it’s unavoidable, what must you do to gain and retain a tactical advantage? Remaining in code red for more than a short time is impossible for most people and will almost certainly be physically and/or psychologically harmful.
Code Black: You are actually fighting and must assume, in any confrontation outside the sparring practice of a martial arts school, that you are fighting for your life, particularly if you are attacked by a stranger on the street (more on this shortly). Adrenaline is pumping and you may experience time dilation (seconds seem like hours) and a narrowing of your field of vision known as “tunneling.” Your hearing may become very dim. Fine muscle control is diminished, even lost. This is a debilitating physical and psychological state and those who experience it are often physically and emotionally exhausted after a confrontation that lasts only seconds. If you have not adopted the habit of maintaining situational awareness, you will almost certainly be at a serious tactical disadvantage and may be hurt or killed.
With only fiction and movies as a guide, most people do not understand that it is entirely possible–indeed, it may be absolutely necessary–to be capable of two modes of behavior which, to the uninformed, seem contradictory. Police officers, Special Forces soldiers, martial artists and others understand what I mean. It is entirely possible to live a quiet, unassuming life, a life that, observed by others, would appear to be not only non-violent, but incapable of violence. Yet, when confronted by a deadly threat, such people are instantly capable of acting with overwhelming speed, violence of action and focus, which results in the prompt elimination of the threat.
In all of my police years, my wife would often say that she could not imagine me doing violence, yet when required, I employed it effectively and without reservation. Many of those who knew me would often comment that I didn’t look or act like a police officer. This was because not only was I far from a stereotypical police officer, I existed in code yellow–as I do to this day–and I was able to recognize potentially dangerous situations and avoid or defuse them, thus avoiding the necessity of violence. However, I constantly trained, mentally and physically, to deliver it if necessary. No rational person wants to harm or kill others, yet no rational person should be without the ability should it become necessary.
It must be understood that most people are utterly unprepared to meet violence. While most Americans believe, at least in the abstract, that evil exists, they don’t tend to think of it in concrete, daily terms. Most people think of themselves as kind, considerate, polite people, people who obey the law and consider the feelings of others. This is admirable, but it is hard, perhaps almost impossible, for such people to realize that they live near people who are not at all like them, people who, if not truly sociopathic–people with absolutely no feelings for others; essentially those without a conscience–care very little for others and have no problem with hurting or killing them for fun, to get what they want, or both. The realization that we might live next to such people, or walk or drive past them at any time of any day is sobering, perhaps even frightening, but may lead to taking the necessary steps to be prepared. That is what this series of articles is all about.
THE OBLIGATIONS OF CONCEALED CARRY:
Those who choose to carry a concealed weapon are, whether they realize it or not, taking on obligations that others simply do not have, and they will be held responsible, legally and morally, for upholding those obligations. Among them are:
(1) Situational Awareness: You are now obligated to live in code yellow. You can no longer afford to be oblivious to your surroundings. You must, to at least some degree, think like a criminal and ask yourself how they would behave and what they would do if they were intending to break into your home, steal your car, or assault you. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ve missed and at how much more vibrant and interesting the world is now that you’re actually much more aware of it in your daily life. You’ll also be entitled to a degree of pride in your ability to better protect yourself and those you love.
You must think “what if?” What if you were attacked as you were pulling your car into your driveway? From which direction would an attack likely come? Would it be a good idea to unbuckle your seatbelt a short distance from home? Would it be a good idea to vary your route to and from home in an unpredictable manner? Are you sufficiently aware of your neighborhood to be able to see anything out of the ordinary? What should you do when approaching your parked car? What should you look for? What if someone is following me? How do I use reflective surfaces like store windows to be more aware of my surroundings?
Asking “what if?” is not paranoia, but a means of being more aware of one’s surroundings, and of providing buffers of time and distance–two of the most important factors in any confrontation–in case of danger. Such awareness may allow you to entirely avoid potentially dangerous situations, and may also alert predators who, seeing that you are not–like most people–oblivious to the danger they represent, will choose less alert and potentially less dangerous prey. Maintaining situational awareness is a small price to pay for avoiding dangerous, potentially deadly, encounters.
(2) Safeguarding Your Weapon: You are solely responsible for safeguarding your weapon. This includes keeping it concealed and ensuring that no one is able to take it from you. It also includes keeping it from those who should not have it, such as children. To fulfill this obligation, you’ll have to consider many things, including how you’ll carry your weapon, how to store it when you’re not carrying it, your wardrobe and how you’ll change your habits–and adopt new habits–to ensure that you don’t accidentally expose your weapon or accidentally leave it behind in a public restroom. You’ll have to alter your wardrobe and behaviors to accommodate the weapon, not the other way around. The premise behind concealed carry, and its value, is that since criminals cannot know who is carrying a concealed weapon, they must assume that anyone could be and act accordingly. You must develop consistent daily routines–do things the same way all of the time–to ensure that you don’t forget to do what you must. If you carry your weapon in your purse, for example, you can never allow that purse to be out of your immediate grasp, and certainly never out of your sight. At a restaurant, it should be on your lap, the strap wrapped under your leg, not on the floor near your chair. If this doesn’t work for you, you must find another means of carrying your weapon. In future editions of this series, I’ll go into the variety of available carry options.
NOTE: An issue in the freedom/citizen control debate rapidly gaining prominence is that of open carry–citizens carrying handguns, even long guns, openly. I’ll only note here that open carry imposes problems and responsibilities not present when one is carrying concealed. Uniformed police officers–their weapons always exposed–undergo training on weapon retention, and have to adapt their body movements to always shield and protect their handguns. I still move my right arm relatively little when walking or moving, so used was I to keeping my elbow in contact with my handgun, even though I have not been in uniform for about 16 years. Even then, I carried a specially designed retention holster that made snatching the gun not impossible, but more difficult. Citizens don’t.
(3) Maintenance Training: Shooting quickly and accurately is a matter of muscle memory and practice. It is a perishable skill. You must be willing to commit to a minimum amount of practice. How much? That depends on you, but generally speaking, once a month in live–on the range–fire, and once a week in dry fire–in the home–practice. The point is that your weapon should feel as familiar to you as your watch. Its mechanisms and use should be as easy and familiar as walking and should require no more conscious effort. New shooters should stick with a single weapon rather than carrying a variety of weapons. There is a venerable saying to the effect that the most dangerous man is the one with only a single gun. The point is that he probably practices with it enough to be truly proficient. If the point is being so familiar with your weapon that you need no conscious thought to employ it efficiently and quickly, that kind of familiarity will be hard to come by if you carry multiple weapons. Firearms aren’t fashion accessories, particularly when carried concealed.
(4) Avoidance of Danger: Firearms aren’t license to become a righteous avenger. In fact, if you’re carrying a firearm, you have a more compelling duty to avoid trouble. Firearms are to be used only as a last resort to protect your life, or the lives of others and to prevent imminent serious bodily injury or death. You must avoid places where danger is more likely such as bars and certain neighborhoods or areas where criminals are known to be. You must never allow yourself to become intoxicated or even impaired. You must ignore insults, walk across a street to avoid people who might be trouble, even walk or drive blocks out of your way. If you are in code yellow, if you have enhanced your situational awareness, such things will be second nature because you’ll constantly be asking “what if?” You’ll be far more likely to recognize potential danger and avoid it. Predators will notice your awareness and will be far more likely to leave you alone.
On the other hand, if they’re too stupid to notice, or so bold or drug-addled that they don’t care, you’ll also be more prepared to avoid them or to gain a tactical advantage if it’s not possible to avoid a confrontation. Remember that if you do have to shoot someone, prosecutors will be asking themselves if you were looking for trouble because you were armed. Be sure that there is not only no evidence to support that theory, but plenty of evidence to the contrary. Most police officers will spend an entire career without ever having to shoot anyone, and they’re exposed to more danger in a month than most citizens will experience in a lifetime. Unlike you, they don’t have a choice; they have to knowingly enter dangerous situations. For the most part, you don’t. Prosecutors know this; so must you.
There are two bodies of law with which anyone carrying a concealed weapon must be intimately familiar: the specific laws of their state that regulate concealed carry and the laws regarding the use of deadly force–in general–and those specific to their state. Of particular concern are the places where concealed carry is prohibited as most people have their permits suspended for accidentally carrying their handguns into such places. These restricted zones vary from state to state, so it’s always wise to carefully research this issue and avoid violating those laws. Keep in mind, however, that Col. Cooper said that it’s much better to be judged by twelve than carried by six. In other words, it’s better to be alive and in violation of a given law than dead and faultlessly law abiding. I do not advocate violating the law, merely being aware of all of the issues relating to these topics.
State Laws: These regulate who is allowed to carry, the related fees, forms and tests (usually written and shooting), terms of license validity and the means of renewal, specify manner of carry (open, concealed or both) and specific zones and places wherein firearms may not be carried by licensees. They also commonly list states with whom reciprocity is shared. In other words, states that have entered into a compact of mutual respect for the concealed carry licenses of their respective citizens. Most states–at last count, 39–are “shall issue” states. In other words, if you meet the criteria for concealed carry under the law, no public official may deny you a license. Illinois was the only state where concealed carry was absolutely prohibited, but recent court orders have drug the legislature and Chicago political machine kicking and screaming into new and at least tentative compliance with the Second Amendment. However, in others–such as California–a “may issue” system is in place where local sheriffs or state officials have absolute authority to decide who will be allowed a license. In such states, licenses are normally granted only for the wealthy, well connected, politicians, or similar worthies. The National Rifle Association website maintains an up to date database of state laws under its Institute For Legislative Action tab .
NOTE: Only a week before this update, the liberal Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a San Diego County may-issue law. This will likely send the issue to the US Supreme Court, which is likely to clarify it’s Heller decision and support concealed carry as a necessary component of the right to keep and bear arms.k
Another vital state issue is preemption. The legislatures of many states have passed preemption laws that prevent cities within those states from passing and enforcing different—usually more restrictive—firearm laws than those in the state statutes. In the states that do not have preemption, one may be committing multiple crimes simply by driving across city limit boundaries. What is completely lawful on one side of an unmarked border is a crime on the opposite side. New York City and New York State are obvious examples of this issue. Again, it is vital to be fully aware of the law wherever you live and wherever you travel. DO NOT, by any means, expect the police or prosecutors to be just or rational where firearms are concerned. Most will be, but in some places, virtually all will not.
Reciprocity is likewise important. Many states have entered into agreements with other states that allow concealed carry to mutually honor their licenses. Circa March, 2013, a bill for national concealed carry reciprocity (H.R. 822) has passed the house, however it will surely be stalled in any Democrat-controlled Senate. Considering the current push for gun control in that body, passage is unlikely, certainly for the remained of Barack Obama’s second term. He promised in his most recent State of the Union address to use Congress-skirting executive orders and administrative regulations to impose gun control measures. One may be reasonable certain that he will live up to this promise if no other. Yet again, you are responsible for being aware of any and all laws wherever you live or travel.
Municipal laws may also have some bearing, but only in those states that lack a state preemption statute. Ultimately, the point is to become very familiar with any state or local laws that might apply, not only where you live, but where you plan to travel. Even those states with reciprocity agreements with your state are sure to have some significant differences in law, and you are required to follow the law wherever you are, even if it differs from the law in your home state.
The Doctrine of Deadly Force:
This is another area where you must carefully follow state law. The laws of some states are more lenient than the general principles of the use of deadly force, while some are more restrictive. The question is: when is the use of deadly force justified? Answer: when necessary to halt the imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death to you or another.
What this basically means is that in any situation in which a reasonable person would believe that they–or another–was faced with the imminent–as opposed to possible or future–threat of serious bodily injury or death, deadly force is a reasonable response. Of course, running away might also be a wise and reasonable response, but only if it is reasonably possible. In states that have enacted the Castle Doctrine or a “stand your ground” law–more about that later–it is not required, but may still be a good idea if possible.
It’s important to understand what “serious bodily injury” means. While the legal definition will vary a bit from state to state, it essentially refers to injury that, while not deadly, is crippling, seriously disfiguring, that will have a continuing, negative impact on the quality and longevity of your life from the moment it is inflicted. Getting shot in the leg or shoulder–as in the movies–is not something to be easily treated and shrugged off. Gunshot wounds are ugly, nasty and can be permanently debilitating. Equally, cuts inflicted by edged weapons like swords or knives can be as debilitating and in many ways, far more horrific and ugly. Many police officers that survive a gunshot wound may be physically healed, but never fully psychologically recover. Broken bones from a beating would also certainly qualify.
The greatest problem is how do you know what injury the next blow delivered by hand or foot will cause? Will you be merely bruised? Will bones be shattered? Will you be crippled, even killed?
Take the case of Ken and Carol Dorushka. Ken was shot in the arm while shielding his wife with his body during the January 8, 2011 attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson. He, like the others present at the time of the attack, was unarmed. The brutal thug that injured and killed so many would want his name to be mentioned here. Despite suffering no physical injuries, Carol arguably suffered most—and continues to suffer. The Wall Street Journal article is worth your time.
The means for determining–on the spot–if deadly force is necessary and justified is to apply the “means, opportunity, and jeopardy” test. There are a variety of similar terms/acronyms, but they all boil down to the same thing:
Means: Does your opponent have the means necessary to cause serious bodily injury or death? If you are a 100 pound, 5 foot nothing woman, any man of average size and strength would almost certainly have the means necessary employing only his bare hands. Someone with a gun certainly would. Someone with a knife, almost certainly, and someone holding a variety of other instruments would also pose such a threat. Someone known to be highly skilled in a martial art, even if smaller than you, might also have the means.
Opportunity: Does your opponent have the opportunity to cause serious bodily injury or death? An attacker armed with a handgun certainly does, out to normal handgun ranges, perhaps as much as 50 yards away, although there is always such a thing as a lucky shot even at greater ranges. An attacker armed with a rifle has a much greater dangerous range. Someone armed with a knife is dangerous to a minimum of 21 feet, perhaps even more, as practical experience demonstrates that even an average person with a knife can close 21 feet before they can be shot and/or stopped by a handgun-wielding victim. Practicing for this possibility is commonly known as the Tueller Drill. By all means take the link and read the related article which is an interview of Dennis Tueller himself.
If a knife-wielding opponent at a greater than 21-foot distance moves as though to throw the knife, a reasonable person must assume that they know what they are doing and can cause serious injury or death at a distance with that knife. Other tools such as hammers, bats, screwdrivers, etc. are also dangerous if the person wielding them is close enough and arguably, if they throw them from a reasonably close distance. Some people are more able to dodge than others.
Jeopardy: Is an opponent acting in such a way, here and now, as to indicate to a reasonable person that they, or another, are in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death? An opponent you know to be carrying a handgun which remains holstered is not putting you in jeopardy, but when he, after uttering threats, perhaps even glaring at you menacingly, quickly reaches for his handgun, jeopardy attaches. Someone standing across the street with a knife yelling threats is not putting you in jeopardy, but when they begin to run toward you, jeopardy increases enormously with each foot gained.
Notice that I keep referring to what a “reasonable person,” might think or do. This is the general standard applied by the law in analyzing the use of deadly force. Shooting a slight 12 year-old girl who yells “I’ll kill you,” while making ready to throw a baseball at you from 50 feet away would almost certainly be found to be inherently unreasonable. Shooting an adult male who has threatened to kill you and is bringing a shotgun to his shoulder from the same distance would almost certainly be considered to be inherently reasonable. Fortunately, the courts, even the Supreme Court, understand that one cannot be expected to be absolutely cool and calm and able to engage in extended intellectual reflection and debate when faced with imminent deadly danger. That necessary understanding does not, however, relieve anyone of the necessity of acting reasonably and properly in deadly force situations.
Shooting to Kill: YOU MUST NEVER SAY, OR EVEN THINK, THAT YOU SHOOT TO KILL. You never shoot unless the requirements of the three part means, opportunity, and jeopardy test have been satisfied. If so, you shoot only to STOP the attacker, to immediately stop them from doing what they were doing that put you or another in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. To that end, you shoot as quickly and effectively as possible to immediately end the threat. So how do you stop an attacker?
Perhaps the best and most complete current resource on this issue is The Law of Self Defense by attorney Andrew Branca. His book is truly excellent and should be mandatory reading for anyone considering carrying a weapon. Full disclosure: Branca and I correspond upon occasion, but I yield no benefit from his book sales.
The Mechanisms of Stopping: There are three primary means of stopping a human being:
(1) Neural damage;
(2) Breaking the skeleton;
(3) Exsanguination (reducing blood pressure through bleeding).
There are, however, many other considerations.
(1) Neural Damage: causing trauma to the brain usually causes immediate cessation of hostile action. In fact, SWAT marksmen try for a brain stem shot whenever possible. They try to hit a hostage taker exactly where the brain and brain stem meet, at the base of the rear of the skull. If properly placed, a bullet to this junction will cause the potential killer to drop as though a light switch had been switched off. Even if they have their finger on the trigger of a gun, they will not be able to pull it. The problem is that this area is a very small target. In fact, relatively speaking, the human head is also a small target, particularly if it is moving at all. Notice too that I am talking about a highly trained marksman making the shot with a scoped, highly accurate rifle, almost always with the benefit of a spotter and from a supported position. Accurately shooting a handgun at the same target, even at close range, is much more demanding. In addition, the target will seldom present the back of his skull to the shooter and stand still long enough for a perfect shot to be made. Marksmen often have to estimate where the nerve junction is while shooting from the front or side or various angles of the same.
(2) Breaking the skeleton: while breaking a femur, or the pelvis, for example, will cause most people to drop to the ground, they may still be capable of pulling a trigger, and if so, have merely been rendered less mobile, not stopped. And again, making such shots with any degree of reliability with a handgun is exceedingly difficult, not only because such targets are rather small in diameter, people move more or less constantly, and the precise location of a major, load-bearing bone in a given person’s leg may be difficult at best to determine. It is also particularly difficult because, compared with rifle ammunition, much handgun ammunition lacks the power to reliably break large bones.
(3) Exsanguination: someone shot in an artery, or even the heart, may have up to three minutes of useful consciousness if they are truly determined to kill you regardless of the damage they suffer in the attempt and their likely death. However, if sufficient blood is lost, the resulting drop in blood pressure will inevitably lead to unconsciousness.
Of course, a combination of these three primary effects may be more effective and faster in stopping hostile action.
If by now you’re wondering how people are stopped at all, good for you. You’re paying attention and really thinking. Again, you’ve likely been infected by Hollywood, but there is a cure.
Fortunately, such matters are not only physical, but psychological. Many people, upon receiving even a survivable gunshot wound, immediately drop and cease hostile action because of what I’ll call the “OMG! I’ve been shot!” response. In reality, choice obscenities are usually employed. Others–thankfully relatively few–may absorb ridiculous numbers of bullets which might slow, but not stop them, as they try to continue their deadly attacks. Such people eventually succumb to one or more of the effects I’ve mentioned, but “eventually” is not helpful or comforting if they are attacking you.
The best course of action is to aim for “center mass,” or the part of the torso at or around the sternum, and fire enough rounds to force the attacker to stop. If a single round of .22 LR ammunition will accomplish this, great. If it requires ten rounds of .45 ACP ammunition, that’s fine–and legally permissible–too. It is the cumulative effect of blood vessel damage, neural shock, and psychological shock that will have the greatest effect, therefore more than one round may almost always be necessary. Do not expect anyone, even if shot with a shotgun, to fly ten feet backward. If any weapon possessed the power, solely through the energy imparted by the impact of its projectile, to fling a 200 pound man ten feet backward, similar energy would be imparted to the person shooting the weapon in one way or another.
Keep in mind that it is always a good idea, even if you cannot avoid or escape a potential deadly force situation, to try to avoid shooting. If there is time, you should clearly display your weapon in the “ready” position–pointing it at your attacker, but roughly at the belt line–and loudly and clearly say “don’t move.” Fortunately, many criminals, confronted with an armed and obviously prepared victim, will choose the better part of valor and promptly show you the rear of their sagging pants and the soles of their flying athletic shoes. And if they do not, you’re in the proper stance to fire and have established your intention not to fire unless absolutely necessary to any bystanders and potential witnesses. “Yeah Officer, that guy told him not to move and wasn’t pointing his gun right at him at first.”
The general rule is that if you have legitimate cause to shoot, you may shoot as many rounds as necessary, with as large a firearm as necessary, to stop the imminent threat. However, once any part of the three part test is no longer operative, you immediately stop shooting. If the attacker is writhing on the ground and has dropped his gun, which is out of his reach, he no longer has the means or opportunity, and is no longer placing you in jeopardy. However, if he is down, but is still holding his gun, you are still in jeopardy, and the moment he begins to move it toward you, jeopardy is clearly and absolutely present, and you shoot until he is stopped, whether that takes an additional round or ten rounds. When the justification to shoot ends, the shooting immediately ends. Even though some states allow it, never shoot a fleeing criminal in the back. If they’re fleeing, there is no jeopardy–at least not to you. If they should suddenly stop and turn toward you with their gun, jeopardy is again present. While there are a few, very rare, circumstances in which shooting a fleeing attacker might be reasonable, they are so rare as to be nothing about which you should worry.
You must never think about “shooting to wound,” let alone try to do it. The law does not require it, and it will be highly likely to backfire for several significant reasons. Obtaining the desired stopping effect with a shot that inflicts only a non-mortal wound is highly unlikely and could conceivably enrage an attacker who will press an attack he might have otherwise abandoned. The necessary physical damage and psychological effect is simply not there, and making such a shot accurately is highly unlikely.
In fight or flight situations, among the first abilities human beings lose–which accompanies time distortion, tunneling and hearing loss–is fine muscle control. This makes it very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to formulate the intention to shoot someone effectively in a small portion of the body so as to immediately disable them, to say nothing of actually carrying out that intention. For most people, it is simply physically impossible. Hitting center mass will be more than hard enough, but with proper training and practice, absolutely attainable.
An additional concern is that in the heat of battle, many people suffer serious wounds, but are unaware of it until the danger has passed. Despite suffering multiple gunshot wounds that might eventually kill them, they didn’t even feel the bullets hit them. Some people may be so high on drugs they’re incapable of feeing anything. Hitting center mass will maximize the probability of quickly stopping a dangerous attacker—whether they feel it or not.
In addition, substantial legal liability may attach. If you were so cool and detached that you could shoot someone in the knee, did you really have sufficient reason to shoot them in the first place? If you really thought that you were in deadly danger, why did you take the time to shoot them someplace that any reasonable person should know wouldn’t reliably stop them? Yes, stopping them will likely result in their death, but you did not intend to cause their death. You intended only to stop them from causing yours. That they subsequently died is regrettable, but they made that choice and forced it upon you. You did not; you are not the attacker.
In all cases, if you shoot at all, you shoot to stop, and you accomplish this by delivering a sufficient volume of accurate fire to that part of the body most likely to cause them to stop. When the threat has stopped, you immediately stop.
At this point, you may find yourself experiencing some degree of revulsion. If so, good for you. You have a conscience. I cannot say often enough that no moral, rational human being wants to harm or kill another. Violence is cruel, nasty, hateful and bloody, but the choice is simple and stark: do you prefer to be alive and unharmed, or bleeding, perhaps dying on the ground, at the mercy of those cruel and inhuman enough to attack you? Which alternative would you prefer for those you love? Which of these outcomes is morally superior?
The Castle Doctrine.
One of the most laudable developments of recent years has been the passage of a growing number of state “Castle Doctrine” laws. Based on the common law principle that “a man’s home is his castle,” these laws create the legal presumption that if you are in your home, or any other place you are legally allowed to be, such as your car, on your property, in a store, etc., you have no duty to run away or otherwise retreat if placed in a deadly force situation. You may stand your ground and defend yourself and it is up to the state to affirmatively prove that you acted in bad faith. In fact, most such laws include the presumption that when you are attacked in your home or other place you are legally present, you are justified in using force against a violent attacker. This is important in that some states and jurisdictions have historically badly treated law-abiding citizens who legitimately used deadly force. Some states had and have laws that require you to try to run away or retreat, even within your own home, if attacked by a burglar in the middle of the night, before using deadly force. Some essentially make you prove that you did try to run away or retreat before using force.
Castle Doctrine laws are, of course, only common sense. If someone breaks into your home or car and tries to attack you, it makes no sense at all to run away, surrendering your vehicle or home to them, if such retreat were even possible. Because such idiotic laws actually put families in danger rather than deterring criminals, castle doctrine laws are welcome and rational. Who would retreat from their home, leaving their wife or children at the mercy of criminals deranged enough to break into an occupied home? Who would oppose such laws? Unfortunately, many. Take the link to further explore the issue.
In fact, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Martin’s Mother–Sybrina Fulton–has been exploited, probably willingly, by those who want to do away with stand your ground or castle doctrine laws, in essence giving the advantage to criminals. Fortunately, no legislature has taken the bait and repealed or meaningfully altered their laws–yet.
A related issue is the old–and completely wrong–advice that if you are forced to shoot a criminal in your yard, you should drag his body inside your home. If you have the legal cause to shoot, it does not matter where the criminal is standing. When the criminal is stopped, you stop, and do nothing–absolutely nothing–to alter the scene in any way (with the possible exception of rendering medical aid if it is possible and safe to do so). Anything you do, no matter how innocuous, may be taken by the police and prosecutors as evidence of evil intent on your part. It is legally and morally unnecessary and tactically dangerous; don’t do it.
Let’s say that you have been forced to defend your life. Walking back to your car with your wife after a movie, you were approached by a criminal who told you he had a gun and demanded your money. He threatened your life and began to pull his hand out of his baggy coat pocket. You were in condition yellow and so were faster. You went to ready and ordered him, loudly and repeatedly not to move, but he kept trying to pull his gun out of his pocket, and now he is face down on the ground and not moving.
The entire confrontation has taken only seven seconds, but it felt like an eternity. At this point, your head may be swimming. Your breath is coming in shallow gasps, and your muscles ache. Suddenly, you’re aware of the world around you. You’re in shock and your wife is shaking and crying. You suddenly realize that you’re shaking too. What should you do?
First be sure that the criminal is truly stopped and not faking. If it’s not obvious, keep him covered, but avoid approaching or touching him. Keep your distance! The last thing you want is to become involved in a wrestling match with a wounded, crazed criminal desperate to get his hands on your handgun. If his weapon is near him on the ground and you can safely move it out of his reach, do so, but again, do not place yourself within lunging reach of the person who just tried to kill you.
Immediately call your attorney: the attorney you’ve already spoken with; the attorney whose number is on your cell phone. Explain what has happened and get his advice. In many states and even nationally, law firms specialize in these cases, providing on-call legal help for a reasonable yearly fee. Such fees are reasonable because such shootings are relatively rate.
Part of that attorney’s advice will almost certainly be to call the police, which you will do next, and at the same time, tell them that they need to send an ambulance. Everything I’ve suggested thus far should take place within the first few minutes after the shooting stops and you can safely use a phone. Tell the police as little as possible. Know that they are recording what you say and will use it against you. Ideally, you will tell them only that there has been a shooting and that you were forced to defend your life against an armed robber, rapist, etc. Be sure to specifically describe what you are wearing and make the dispatcher repeat it, along with the understanding that you have described the good guy, not the bad guy. It is not at all uncommon for dispatchers to make mistakes, sending multiple, hyped police officers to the scene of the shooting thinking that the guy in the jeans and green shirt with a blue ball cap is the shooter rather than the victim. Remember, say only the minimum possible necessary to inform the officers who will shortly be arriving and no more. You will feel like blurting out your feelings–don’t.
Before the officers arrive, if possible, move behind cover while still keeping the attacker covered. As they arrive, unless you still think you are in imminent, mortal danger, holster your weapon, putting it out of sight, and position yourself so the arriving officers can clearly see you. Keep your hands in the open so the officers can see them. Tell the officers, repeatedly and clearly that you’re the victim and obey their commands, moving slowly, deliberately, and only when they tell you to move. Remember that they are unsure what has happened and who is the bad guy. Don’t give them any reason to see you as a threat.
The officers will try to question you as much as possible. Follow your attorney’s advice and say as little as possible. If you were unable to contact your attorney by phone, tell them that you were forced to defend your life against a robber or other criminal attempt. In either case, assure them that you will cooperate fully as soon as you have had the opportunity to speak with your attorney, who should be on the way to speak with you. Expect to be arrested and do not resist if they do arrest you. Expect to be taken to a police station where other officers will try to question you. If they do not arrest you but ask you to come to the police department to make a statement, agree to go, but again, tell them only that you will cooperate fully as soon as you’ve had the chance to speak with your attorney.
As long as you have obviously acted within the law, it is likely that no charges will be pursued against you, though they may initially be filed and you may end up spending some time in jail until bond is set. This is not unusual.
Thereafter, expect that the robber’s relatives will suddenly discover that the robber, regardless of a rap sheet a mile long, was spending his life waiting for a letter from the Vatican announcing his sainthood. Expect to be sued. Yes, it’s insane, but unless you live in a Castle Doctrine state that prohibits it, expect that it will happen. Even in a Castle Doctrine state, expect that they’ll try to sue you. The good news is that you’ll probably eventually win–and that you and your wife are alive to be sued. That’s the point.
The next installment of this updated series, which will be posted on February 26, 2014, will deal with the more practical aspects of concealed carry, including weapon choice, methods of carry, tactics, and other related concerns.