Most of you know that I’m a big supporter of the Second Amendment and carry pretty much everywhere I legally can. Well, back in September of last year, a friend 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. After the fact, he approached a group 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 isn’t as easy to answer as one might think.
I’ve discussed the proposed eventuality with numerous people in the months since it was first brought to me, and a disturbing number of those asked (many of whom are every-day carriers themselves) responded with nothing more than “I’d shoot them!” or something along those lines. Ok… that kinda makes sense, right? I mean, if you aren’t willing to take a life you probably have no place carrying a weapon, right? Isn’t that the point? 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 at least until you’ve finished reading this article.
It’s 2am. I’m the only customer at the counter in a 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. Another customer enters and starts wandering around the store; 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.
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’ll only escalate the situation. At this point, he isn’t a threat, so forcing an armed confrontation now will make me 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 my Springfield XDs 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 that range, aiming 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 to escalate 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.
Moments later, as I’m leaving the restroom, a man enters the store. He’s clearly agitated and wearing baggy, but otherwise nondescript, clothing (I promise, I’m not stereotyping). His hands are thrust deep in his pockets as he paces in front of the registers. Suddenly, he produces a gun and demands that the 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 this 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 and they can track the phone.
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 on either side. 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 the 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’ve narrowed my danger area from 360 degrees to 270 degrees (or even 90 degrees if i can get into an actual corner). Now I have a better chance of ensuring that any and all dangers are in my line of site and I can adjust my plans accordingly.
For the sake of argument, we’ll assume that my initial assumption was correct, and there isn’t an accomplice. In fact, there’s nobody else in the store. Has the criminal noticed me yet? What’s his visibility level? If he can see 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. 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 have to 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.
Before pulling the trigger (or even drawing my weapon) there are a LOT of things to think through… Escalation of force. If the criminal is brandishing 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 as one that prevents the death or grievous bodily harm of yourself or another. If the criminal is wailing on someone with a baseball bat, that may be a justifiable shoot 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 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’ll 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.
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.
Outside of the military, I’ve never had occasion to fire my weapon outside of the range. I’ve drawn my weapon once, and almost had to draw it a second time. This is the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of those who carry will never have the need to draw, let alone discharge, their weapon.
In the first incident, I found myself in the middle of an armed carjacking. I hadn’t been carrying long and, in hindsight, did something incredibly stupid that, thankfully, didn’t come back to bite me. I was leaving my hotel at 4am one morning while on a business trip. As I pulled to the exit, a young man approached the side of my vehicle and produced a weapon. It was a small handgun, probably a .380, and wasn’t actually pointed at me. I was legally carrying a 4″ Springfield 1911 in a shoulder holster. I didn’t think the situation through and immediately went for my weapon. The aggressor decided my weapon was more impressive than his and ran off. I could have gone horribly. In fact, it probably should have gone differently. The fact that nobody got shot was pure dumb luck. To make matters worse, I jeopardized my life (or freedom) for a car.
The second incident was (much like the posited scenarios above) 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, he got agitated and began 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 obviously was just another customer and couldn’t sell him anything) and immediately physically assaulted me. I stepped behind the counter, such that my back was against the wall and the clerk was well to my right. The man turned from me 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 the aggressor so that I could draw my weapon without him seeing the motion. But, thankfully, before it reached the point where I felt there was an imminent threat, the aggressor head police sirens and ran out. While we were able to provide the police with descriptions of both the man and his vehicle, he was never caught.
I am not a law enforcement officer or lawyer. The above scenarios and advice are my personal thoughts based on what training I have had and common sense and should not be taken as legal advice.