You’re at work. You manage a Dollar General store. It is about 8:30 on a weekday evening when one of your clerks waves you over with a problem. You move behind the register and turn toward the customer.
How can I help you, you ask?
Open the register, he says!
The customer taps his waist, and you see a gun shoved in his pants. You are being robbed.
You own a gun too. You have your Pennsylvania license to carry. You are carrying concealed tonight. The news article doesn’t say when and how, but you present your firearm and shoot your attacker twice. At least one shot hits the attacker in the head. Neither the employees nor the customers are injured. You and the clerk step back and call 911.
You give a brief statement to the police. EMS declares your attacker dead at the scene. Your employees tell the police what they saw. You also hand over the store security video to the police. You are not charged with a crime.
Police tell you that the robber had a fake gun in his pants.
I have to start with the many things our defender did correctly. I think the store employees had a safety plan since the checkout clerk knew to call the manager to her checkout lane when she was being robbed. Crime has surged across the country, and particularly in Philadelphia. That means there were many opportunities for the store emplyees to ask themselves, ‘What should we do when that happens to us?’ They took that question seriously.
One way to improve our safety is to pay attention to the small warnings we get each day.
Our defender recognized that he and his employees worked in a dangerous area at a dangerous job. Many of the small purchases at Dollar General are paid for in cash. The manager wanted a firearm to protect himself, his customers, and his employees. The store had a video security system. The defender took a concealed carry class, selected a personal firearm for concealed carry, and applied for his permit. Becoming an armed defender and building a plan took place long before the robber walked through the door that night.
That night, the defender recognized that he and others had a serious problem. They faced an immediate, lethal, and unavoidable threat of death or great bodily harm. He defended himself and others with lethal force. He stopped shooting when the threat stopped. He called the police and gave the officers a brief statement when they arrived. He also gave them a copy of the security video.
Let’s talk about that video for a few seconds. It helps our legal defense when surveillance video is consistent with our statements, our staff’s statements, and our customers’ statements. It helps a lot.
These news stories are always incomplete, so we are left with quite a few unanswered questions. Let’s start with the basic question of having armed employees at work. Defending yourself and the other innocent people in the store is much more effective if we have a safety plan. I think the store manager and employees talked about what to do if they were threatened. Fortunately for us, there is a lot we can decide in advance.
The plan that works for the clerk being robbed isn’t the same plan for the clerk who is standing behind the robber and several checkout lanes away. One obvious point to discuss is when to signal for help, when to run for the back room, and when to drop to the floor and cover your head.
Discuss with your co-workers what they might do with the customers who might be standing in danger. Your plans have to be very simple since you don’t have time for anything involved or complex. One thing that I worry about is that the defender could be aiming his firearm toward other clerks or customers depending on where the robber is standing. The defender might not be able to defend himself or others if an innocent customer is in the way. There are several solutions to that problem, but you know the situation where you work better than I do. A simple walk-through will show you most of what you need to consider. Can you move to get a clear shot or to cause the robber to move?
An armed robbery is a lethal threat. That means we’re justified to use lethal force to stop that threat. We also want to stop the threat without getting shot. That is why we usually don’t want to draw our firearm when the robber has his gun in his hands, his gun pointed at us, and we have the robber’s attention on us.
We want to stop the threat without injury to innocent parties.
We have options. It sounds like this robber left his imitation gun in his pants. Giving the robber the money in the cash drawer would keep the robber’s hands occupied. Offering him the money from the next checkout aisle provides an excuse for the checkout clerk to leave for safety. It also gives the robber a reason to turn his head away from us.
We have better options if we think about our defense before we are threatened.
There is more to do now that the threat is over because bad guys often travel in packs. That means there may be another bad guy waiting outside. We want to lock the doors to keep the getaway driver from coming inside. If we can, we want to move innocent parties away from the robber and away from the outside windows.
Check on your customers and co-workers to see if they were injured in the robbery. They could be hurt from your shots or from the shots fired by the robber. They could be hurt as they dove for the floor and products were knocked off of the store shelves. We don’t want everyone to run to the scene of the crime, so ask everyone to stay where they are and stay safe until they move to safety. You want to know if anyone else is injured so you can tell the 911 operator how much help you need.
Which one of your co-workers could help an injured customer who was cut by a glass jar that fell from a store shelf?
It would take minutes to recognize that someone is injured. It would take many minutes to interview each employee and find out who had first aid training. It saves so much time if your co-workers know to consider the question, know where to turn for help, and know where the first aid supplies are kept in the backroom. We’re not playing doctor but treating significant injuries until we are relieved by EMTs.
Another point to talk about with your co-workers is what we should say to the police. We want our co-workers to give a brief initial statement and then to wait until we talk with our lawyer and give a full report. We tell the police officers what we observed without speculating about what it meant.
For example, we saw a stranger walk up to the cashier. We saw the cashier turn off the light that says her checkout lane was open. We saw her send the other customers to another checkout lane and we saw her call the manager. We didn’t see anything else because we were running toward the back room. We heard gunshots, but we don’t know how many or who fired them.
Knowing not to guess what happened is a lot to learn. The one thing we can say with complete confidence is that we’ll give the police a complete report after we talk with our lawyer.
Saying emotional things when your adrenaline is flowing can cost you tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills even if you did nothing wrong.
Sitting across the lunch table and asking our co-workers to practice giving a police report is important for both of us. We are not trying to bias the reports to the police in any way. Instead, we are trying to reduce the stress our co-workers might feel after the robbery. We’re helping them give a simple, brief, and accurate initial report. A few moments of practice gives them a mental model of how to respond. They recognize what to do when they are questioned by the police.
Let me back up for a minute. There is a problem with walking through your store and considering what you’d do if you were robbed. That walk-through assumes you were there.
What could have happened if the manager was the only designated defender? The employees and customers would be defenseless when the manager was at lunch, out on an errand, or in the back of the store while they were being robbed out front. That oversight is where a firearms instructor might see some things that you and your co-workers missed.
More defenders are better than fewer defenders. The quantity has a quality of its own.
-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.
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.