Ep. 37 Should I Shoot? The Crazy Man With the Knife

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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:

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.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Thinkingblade January 13, 2017, 12:56 pm

    I think I am firmly in the camp of option 2 given the details of the scenario. I know I’m at least 15 feet away (11 feet for being one story up, plus whatever lateral distance – do a little trig). So, I can certainly be getting a good recording on my phone, and at least mine is new enough where I can be on the 911 call at the same time it is recording I think.

    Two things I don’t like about going down there. First, if for some reason I have to shoot all of the other people are in the same target plane. If I’m shooting at a downward angle getting a safe shot with a reasonable backing is easier than if I am at the same level as the 10 other people on the ground. Note – IF I have to shoot – meaning it looks like if I don’t someone specifically is going to die because they can’t get away.. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to and would rather have the police handle it if possible.

    Second, if I go down there I have to lose sight of the potential attacker when I go down. That means I am now going into a situation with an armed assailant blind and since I am in a hotel which generally has lots of open space – not much cover. Cross my room, go down the stairs, get to wherever this is going on – probably on the order of a minute to 90 seconds. The attacker could be anywhere in that time – including right in my face when I open the stairwell door. None of that sounds like a good idea to me.

    I practice with my pistol on baseball size targets from the draw out to 25 yards from different angles. I’m certainly not the world’s greatest shot, nor the fastest, but I’d much rather take my chances from a balcony where I can even potentially steady against something than going into an uncontrolled environment blind – particularly knowing there are innocents around and knowing that the cops are on their way.

  • Mahatma Muhjesbude January 13, 2017, 11:48 am

    This whole concept series is wrong. And it’s going to get people hurt before they learn the correct thing to do. I don’t know if I want to waste any more ofmy valuable and experienced time correcting it like I (and a couple others) did for so long on one the main concealed carry organization’s forums before they finally saw the bright ‘flash’ in the dark about their for the most part dangerous concealed carry ‘training/videos before they finally came around just this week, in fact, to realizing that trying to do ‘aiming’ with sights when you are attacked will never give you an advantage, all other things considered and in relative balance most of the time..

    In fact, it will most likely be a dangerous disadvantage, TO YOU! They don’t honestly admit it because their membership profit ‘package’ is enhanced and exciting for the members with included video scenario training. But now they’re at least selling ‘point shooting’ books and having a gal do a robbery scenario practice using a tight in hip draw at close in range. They still don’t have it down to the most effective actions, but at least it’s a start.

    With this ‘should I shoot’ series, I don’t have time today because I must go to the VA hospital for yet another chance to give my life or my country.

    But since GA blogs are my favorite forum and I like all the rare serious intelligence here maybe I’ll come back later –if I survive the ‘contact’– and explain the real ‘reality scenario’ t for general consumption and put it in perspective before somebody gets realty hurt with all this ‘scenario’ bullshit’.

  • Hugo January 13, 2017, 11:29 am

    With so many anti-gun a-holes out there, there is a good chance you will end up in hot water if you get involved. The only way I would intervene is if there was imminent danger to someone..i.e he had already slashed someone and was trying to finish the job. Otherwise, I call 911 and wait for the pros. Even they will likely be criticized if they end up shooting the perp.

  • SuperBdog January 13, 2017, 11:28 am

    If I was going to announce myself in any way, it would be to instruct people to get away from him and stay away. I wouldn’t say anything about the police coming as this might push him to take a hostage. Unless he starts stabbing people, I’d keep my gun handy but hidden. Take notes and be a good witness.

    • Tom Walker January 14, 2017, 4:51 pm

      Exactly what I was thinking! I wouldn’t go downstairs and increase the possibility of getting hurt or killed myself, along with completely losing track of what is happening in a very volatile situation. Calling out to bystanders to stay back instead of yelling at someone who is agitated and unlikely to listen anyway. hen “observe and report” unless the situation escalates to life and death. That’s when to decide whether to use my gun which I’d already unholstered, but kept out of sight.

  • JPN January 13, 2017, 9:56 am

    Option 3 is the least desirable for me – I’m neither former military nor LEO. I’m with the other commenters up-thread – I’m not trained in this type of situation, I’m just a CCL holder with a goal of protecting my family and myself foremost.

    For me, with my experience level and abilities, I neither announce myself to the shooter, nor do I issue any warnings or threats or instructions, and I certainly don’t go downstairs to intervene. I do my best to be a good witness, though I don’t think I’d fill my hands up wtih a phone or video camera. I keep my hands free in case I need to draw a weapon, fire and/or reload.

  • Clay Hamann January 9, 2017, 8:06 pm

    The distance is not given in the scenario, so much is just a guess. You do have a cell phone, and they are all equiped with a camera. Upon concluding the conversation with the 911 operator, I turn on the camera and start filming. My effectiveness from a balcony is debateable, but probably not great. If I choose to move to the ground floor, I keep filming and keep my sidearm handy, but still holstered. If there is a real threat to someones life I take offensive action according to the scene and circumstances. Otherwise I film and narate as seems necessary and await the Uniforms. As a former police officer, I too have a hard time staying on the sideline, but it will be apparent if action is needed. Sirens will let me know how long before the police arrival. After a quick observation, I will know whether to shoot or intervene at all, or be a good witness.

    • Ron Stidham January 13, 2017, 7:30 am

      Clay has made a very good response. Not knowing what has triggered this man into the rage that he is acting out would be a hard thing to swallow by shooting and asking questions last. As a former Marine, my training is backwards from that, close the threat fast and continue on. Training is great, knowing what kind of episode you find yourself in is the best of both worlds. Do as Clay said and be a good witness, unless you have to intervene, best to let the LEO take this one.

    • Mongo January 13, 2017, 8:49 am

      Great response Clay. I’m not former LEO/military so for me to insert myself and react to “saving innocent lives” would be somewhat foolish on my part. I am not in danger, my family is not in danger so being the best witness (using cell phone video) is the best thing for me to do. Aside from not knowing all of the details surrounding the guy and why he is doing what he is doing, (which is an excellent point), the cops are responding to a man with a knife; so if they show up to a man with a knife and a man with a gun, I would become their primary variable to deal with because of the gun. I do not want to get involved, and subject myself and my family to the personal and legal mess that would come. Just because you think you are acting valiantly and your intent was to protect innocent life, the cops may not think that at all. They will just arrest me and let the courts figure it out.

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