Editor’s Note: The following is a post by Ed Combs, the Associate Editor of Concealed Carry Magazine.
Check out the last five episodes in this series:
- Ep. 32 Should I Shoot? Threat Assessment in Cold Weather
- Ep. 33 Should I Shoot? The Late Night Prowler
- Ep. 34 Should I Shoot? ‘The Drop’
- Ep. 35 Should I Shoot? When All You Have Is Your Backup Gun
- Ep. 36 Should I Shoot? Is that a Pellet Gun in My Face?
Here at “Should I Shoot?” we’re more concerned with, as Lt. Col. Grossman would say, the “software” side of the concealed carry equation than the “hardware” side. I love to talk guns and holsters and knives and flashlights as much as anyone, but this is about generating discussion and critical thought. We’re here to run as many scenarios as possible and, in doing so, encourage all responsibly armed Americans to practice weighing options and making measured decisions. Nothing about any of that is simple, nor is any of it easy.
Say you’re standing in a hotel room packing to leave. Since you’re clothed and you’re not in a place that bars you from carrying, your EDC sidearm is right where it’s supposed to be — charged and secured on your person. You hear several shouts outside and what is very clearly the word “knife.”
You walk over to the sliding screen door and see a heavyset man in his mid-50s slicing at the air with what appears to be a regular old kitchen knife. You also see a group of men and women scattering away from him. Just as you see this, he weaves out of your line of sight and the shouting intensifies. You slide the screen door back and step out onto the balcony with your phone to your non-gun ear, and the 911 dispatcher tells you that they’ve been alerted to the situation and that units are on the way.
So, there you are: one story up on a hotel balcony, wearing a sidearm that’s charged and ready to go, looking down on a parking lot where … well, let’s go over what, exactly, you know at this point.
You’ve personally seen a knife-swinging man who, at least once, lunged in an aggressive fashion toward about 10 other people. Those 10 people were concerned enough about his behavior to shout and run away from him and, now that he’s weaved his way back in front of the balcony, you see that a few of the crowd are approaching him in an attempt to talk him down.
“Should I shoot?”
Before shooting even crosses your mind, you need to rapidly assess your options. Minor permutations notwithstanding, here’s where we are.
Option 1: Do nothing else. You called 911, they know what’s up and they have squads pointed in your direction. Stay away from the window and mind your own business. You’ve already done more than most folks would do.
Option 2: Do nothing else but stand there on the balcony and observe, prepared to duck back behind the security of that cinderblock exterior hotel wall. Be, as they say, “a good witness.” Concentrate; get the details right. Take notes if possible.
Option 3: Yell to the man that he needs to immediately drop the knife. Punctuate your point by drawing your sidearm and pointing it at his chest.
Option 4: The man presents a direct-and-imminent threat to innocent life. Keep your weapon holstered but start your autogenic breathing, get down there and see if your help is needed.
Which option is the wisest? Well, let’s walk through them.
Option 1: Local law enforcement being what it is, there’s a halfway decent chance that the multiple professionals who are currently on their way will know this guy by sight. They handle exactly this kind of behavior in exactly this area and, depending on where we’re talking about, they might do so on a weekly basis. They’re also in possession of less-lethal force options like TASERs, 12-gauge bean bag rounds and pepper spray. Most importantly, from where you’re standing, if they have to shoot him, they’ll be backed up by a police department, sheriff’s office or state police agency. It might be harder to swallow than a tennis ball, but this might be one of those times that you step back and let the pros do their thing.
Option 2: Atop everything covered with Option 1, if you’re out on that balcony, you might be able to provide valuable information to law enforcement for what could range anywhere from a routine police report to a full-on mass murder investigation.
NOTE: Options 1 and 2 also mean that you might have to live with the knowledge that you — armed and at your level of training and experience — stood by as a person or persons got murdered by a madman. That would be tough to handle, but let’s keep moving.
Option 3: Drawing your sidearm and issuing commands might sound good on paper, but what, exactly, do you think you’re going to do from up there? Are you not just a competent but a good shot at however far away he is? Do you know how your pistol shoots from elevation? How much experience do you have with moving targets? If this guy’s just having a particularly bad day and acting out, what’s to say that hearing your orders and seeing your firearm won’t escalate the situation, maybe even prompting him to grab someone just so he can murder them in front of you? (We won’t even get into target isolation or him running under your balcony. In case you were wondering, I consider this the worst option of the four.)
Option 4: You’ll insert yourself into a hot scene that will soon contain cops responding to a “crazy man with a knife” call, and you’re not in uniform. Moreover, you’re about to intervene on what might be a random attack, a child custody argument, a psychotic break or a weird drug episode (and maybe some combination thereof). You have no idea what relationships exist between the man with the knife and the individuals around him. You don’t know whether he was attacked or whether he’s on a murderous rampage. You don’t even know what was happening before the knife came out, but there you’ll be, right down in it, trying to work out exactly where you fit into the whole picture.
I don’t like any of those options.
Personally, I get down there as quickly and discreetly as possible, but then again, I’m former law enforcement. I have training and experience in mitigating violence and dealing with emotionally disturbed persons — training in de-escalation, discreet NON-escalation and unobtrusive observation. (Those last two are harder than they sound.) I need to be there with a sidearm ready to save lives, but the best-case scenario is everyone stays away from him until the cops arrive and no one even suspects I realize what’s going on.
What do you do and, equally importantly, why do you do it?
For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.