Your barbershop opened 7 hours ago. It is mid-afternoon on Saturday when a customer returns to your shop. He is wearing a mask, but with Covid, so are a lot of people. What is unusual is that this customer is angry. The news article doesn’t say if the customer is mad at one of the other customers in the shop or if he is mad at one of the employees. Whatever the reason, this customer takes a gun from his pocket and points it at customers and employees. The attacker threatens them.
You own a gun. You are carrying concealed. You wait your turn and then present your firearm. You shoot the attacker. He falls down and drops his gun so you stop shooting. Customers and staff dive on the attacker to hold him down and keep him from picking up his gun again. You call 911.
EMS takes your attacker to the hospital with a non-life threatening wound to his hip. You give a brief statement to the police.
We read people’s intentions by the look on their faces. If there is any confusion between what we heard them say and what we saw on their face, then we believe our eyes. Masks hide a lot of that non-verbal communication. This customer was masked, yet someone drawing a gun in a barbershop sends an unmistakable message.
Our defender believed what he saw. He recognized an immediate, lethal, and unavoidable threat to innocent people. The shop owner owned a gun and was armed that day. His gun was within immediate reach. The gun was stored in a condition so it could be used without delay. Those particular achievements were essential. They were lifesaving.
Those points may seem obvious or ordinary to some of us, but there are millions of new gun owners who are struggling with them. We can waste irreplaceable seconds while we struggle to believe what is happening because we have not seen what violence looks like. We can imagine that storing our gun in the trunk of our car is close enough because we have not studied a self-defense encounter. We can pretend that we will have time and space to rack a cartridge into an empty chamber. A little force-on-force training will show you how difficult that can be.
How many people would be injured or die if this honest gun owner was unprepared to stop a lethal threat?
Most of us don’t see a haircut, even a very bad haircut, as a problem that requires a firearm. We can speculate that the attacker had mental health problems or was intoxicated by alcohol or drugs. Drawing a firearm and threatening the customers and staff at a barbershop means the attacker’s other actions are unpredictable and may be extremely dangerous.
This wasn’t a shooting range, but a barbershop, and that put additional demands on the defender. There were people everywhere. Some customers were seated in barber chairs. Some customers were seated against the walls. Employees and customers were standing and moving around the shop. The situation around the attacker was anything but orderly and predictable. Some people might be so close to you that you don’t have space to present your firearm. Those are the crowded conditions the defender faced.
Every shot we fire is going to stop somewhere, and hopefully only where we intended the bullet to stop. There is not a lot of margin for error in these crowded conditions.
We want to take all the time we need to be accurate..and no more. The bad guy already had his gun out. That means we don’t want to get into a speed contest where he has a significant head start. We want to wait for him to turn away and talk to someone else. We also can’t afford to hurry and miss because our bullet might hit other people, and the bad guy might then shoot us or someone else.
Usually, we practice shooting at a target range with our arms at full extension. The motion of presenting a firearm and lifting it up to eye level would draw the attacker’s attention. That stance with the gun at eye level also telegraphs our intentions.
I am speculating here, but perhaps our defender shot at close range from the retention position and from behind a barber’s smock. That could be an excellent solution to a very difficult problem. The attacker might not recognize the presentation until after the defender’s gun was fired. Also, shooting from the retention position and under concealment might explain why the attacker was shot in the hip.
When he was shot, the attacker dropped his gun and dropped to the floor. That is when the defender stopped shooting. That was the correct decision both tactically and legally. Every shot inside that shop carries the additional risk of injuring an innocent person. Also, we are only justified in using lethal force when the threat we face is immediate, unavoidable, and lethal. The disarmed attacker writhing on the floor is not a lethal threat..at least for a second.
The news report says that customers and staff held the attacker. We don’t know if the victims knocked the attacker down after he dropped his gun, or if they grabbed him after he was already down. That is a critical and precarious moment in either case.
The bad guy dropped his gun on the ground and then fell down next to it. We can’t immediately tell if he fell because he was incapacitated and out of the fight, or if he dove for the ground to recover his firearm. Hopefully, there are enough people in the fight with us to separate the attacker from his gun. I don’t know what to suggest because this is outside my experience and training. I do know that we now have a bag guy on the ground, a firearm on the ground, and innocent parties all within feet of each other. I’m glad that the customers helped, but I don’t know if we can count on that kind of help in other circumstances.
You might have to shoot an attacker who is already on the ground if he grabs for his gun while innocent people are close by. That might mean shooting him in the back, and we’re all glad it didn’t come to that. If the defender dies, then his next of kin will claim that your shot was excessive since the attacker was simply trying to grab his gun and run away. Later, you will be asked to articulate why that shot was necessary to save lives. Don’t guess and don’t try to explain your actions at the scene. That is a statement that you want your lawyer to make with you.
Back at the barbershop, we want a responsible adult to take control of the attacker’s gun. We may have to move the gun away from the attacker, but we don’t want to change the scene of the crime any more than necessary for our immediate safety. We certainly don’t want a bystander holding the attacker’s gun when the police arrive.
We want to holster our firearm once the scene is safe. The disarmed bad guy being held by the customers is no longer a threat. Now we can ask a particular individual to call 911. That is more effective than asking a crowd to call since each person in a crowd assumes the person next to him will take action. Also, we want to ask an employee to lock the doors so the bad guy’s friends can’t come inside.
There is more work to do. Ask if the customers and your employees are injured. Now, ask everyone to call 911 and call 911 yourself. Ask an employee to take a picture of the scene so you know who was inside the shop.
Give the 911 operator your location and describe the help you need. In this case, you need police and emergency medical services. Also, give them your description. Say that you’re armed and that your firearm is now put away. You want to be on the phone with the dispatcher when the police arrive so you know when to open the doors.
After the police arrest the attacker, thank the customers and staff who were there. They have just gone through a very emotional situation with you. They need some rest. So do you.
Talk to the police and give them general information. Point out that the wounded man is the bad guy. Explain that he threatened everyone in the shop and that you defended yourself and others. State that you’ll be a witness and file a complaint, but first you want to talk to your attorney. Give yourself some time to talk to your attorney even if you think you did everything right. That should take several days.
I purchased legal defense plans so that I have an attorney to call.
Compare the programs offered by different companies in your state. Find the plans that work for your family. But definitely have a membership in a reputable legal program that specializes in self-defense law.
Rob Morse highlights the latest self-defense and other shootings of the week. See what went wrong, what went right, and what we can learn from real-life self-defense with a gun. Even the most justified self-defense shooting can go wrong, especially after the shot. Get the education, the training, and the liability coverage you and your family deserve, join USCCA.
About Rob Morse
Rob writes about gun rights at Ammoland, at Clash Daily, at Second Call Defense, and on his SlowFacts blog. He hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast and co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast. Rob was an NRA pistol instructor and combat handgun competitor.