You work in a small used car dealership. A customer walks up to you as you are standing in the parking lot and asks if he can see a car. You invite the customer inside so you can grab the keys and get a copy of his identification. As you sit down, you see the customer flash a gun that is in a shoulder holster.
You are armed too. You put your hand on your firearm and present it. The robber says, “No!” and never pulls the gun away from the holster. The robber runs outside where his partner and the getaway driver are waiting.
You stay inside and call the police. You give the police a brief statement and then show them your identification. You also show the officers the many security video shots of the robber.
You are not charged with a crime.
Tag- No shots fired
Car dealerships are robbed on a regular basis and this defender prepared himself for working at a dangerous job. The defender formed a plan. As a first step, he became a gun owner. The office and the parking lot had several video surveillance cameras that tracked movement. The story implies that the defender carried his firearm on his body in a holster when he was at work, but we didn’t see pictures that confirm that.
The defender recognized that a customer with a gun in his hands could be a lethal and unavoidable theat. The defender drew his pistol and the bad guy ran off. The good guy didn’t chase the robber but stayed inside. Our good guy called the police and then gave the responding officers a statement.
Note what is missing in that description. The bad guy was pointing his gun away from the car salesman. The robber had not made verbal or physical movements that indicated an immediate threat. That could change in a fraction of a second, but that fraction of a second is critically important. The defender presented his firearm, but it appears the defender did not point his gun directly at the robber. I assume the defender’s gun was at the low ready position.
We can make mistakes by doing too much too early, or too little too late.
The key here is to recognize the required points of justified armed defense. The armed robber was an imminent threat but that threat was not unavoidably immediate. Yes, the threat justified that we have a gun in our hands but not that we press the trigger. Not yet.
My first impression was that such careful discrimination under pressure would be almost impossible, but then I remembered that we press the trigger less than 20 percent of the time. Gun owners in the United States are wonderfully reluctant to use lethal force and shoot their attacker. Presenting our firearm and not shooting the attacker is the rule rather than the exception.
I don’t want you to come away with a mistaken impression. If you watch the video you will see that the robber deliberately exposed his firearm. This was not an accident as if the wind lifted the customer’s shirttail and revealed the gun.
The robber’s gun was carried in the high center chest. The robber clearly lifted his shirt, put his hand on his gun, and pulled the gun from the shoulder holster. The robber then changed his mind and did not move his hands from his chest until he reached for the door handle to escape. The video also shows tattoos on the robber’s stomach so the police should be able to identify him.
Even with video surveillance, we have to explain our actions. Can we articulate why we faced a lethal, immediate, and unavoidable threat of death or great bodily harm?
Officer, a man came into my office with a firearm in his shirt. He flashed the gun at me the way a robber would and he pulled the gun from his holster. I reacted the way I would if he were a robber. His hand on a gun was a threat so I presented my firearm and I did not point it at the robber. I did not yet face an immediate lethal threat so I didn’t shoot him.
I called 911 when I could and I put my gun away.
If this were a concealed carrier who walked through the door of your office with an inside-the-waistband holster and his shirt exposing the gun, then we’d say, ‘Nice gun.’ If we were the customer, then we’d pull down our shirt, have a laugh, and go about buying a car.
Open carry is legal in many states. Even where open carry is illegal, the mere sight of a firearm is not a threat. A stranger unholstering his firearm in the middle of our office probably is a threat. The law requires that we judge the totality of circumstances.
There is more to do after the bad guy runs away. We want to call the police if we touched our firearm even if we didn’t point it at the attacker or press the trigger. We want to win the race to 911 and create a paper trail if the customer later calls the police. Yes, honest defenders have been accused of assault and brandishing a firearm in a threatening manner.
Your instructor probably mentioned calling 911 the last time you took a firearms class. If that slipped your mind then reading this article was a few minutes well spent. Thank you.
As usual, we want to give the police a brief statement that outlines the facts. Show the police any evidence they need to collect. Then call your lawyer to fill out a complete report at a later date.
-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.