Ep. 40 Should I Shoot? Your Carry Gun vs. the Man with the AK

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:

Greater and greater numbers of Americans are carrying concealed, not only for self-defense and the defense of loved ones but also so they can be prepared to stop rapid mass murder if necessary. Whether it’s a terrorist with an international political agenda or simply a madman, this nation is one of the only on Earth where private citizens are allowed to fight back with effective means.

Complicating this is the fact that even though gun sales have remained strong for several years now, a lot of those guns aren’t exactly what you might consider “duty guns” or handguns designed for counter-offensive use. A lot of them are what you might call “get-off-me” guns: micro-frame pistols chambered in .380 ACP and five-shot revolvers chambered in .38 Special. I’m not going to stand here and say that no one can hit much past 15 yards with guns like those, but I will stand here and say that most folks who own one don’t train to. Why would they? It’s a “belly gun,” and most people end up using their guns to defend against close-in, face-to-face attacks.

It’s not just private citizens either. Most law enforcement officers who have to fire are firing at assailants well within 25 yards, often no farther away than the average private citizen is from his attacker.

“Most,” however, isn’t “all.”

A few months ago, a deputy with whom I briefly served with was on duty with a different agency and, at a full run, stopped a school shooter with his service sidearm, a .40-caliber Glock 22. He was patrolling past a high school prom, and as soon as he was able to visually confirm that what he saw was, in fact, a young man with a firearm who’d already shot innocent persons, he immediately stopped an active deadly threat to the individuals inside and outside of the school building.

I’m ashamed to admit that I hardly remember this officer — I’d maybe worked a shift or two with him before leaving law enforcement to work full-time at Concealed Carry Magazine — so I do not recall what he was like as a shooter during training or qualification. “Shooting qual” hardly enters into such a situation though; anyone who’s in the least bit experienced with firearms will recognize what he did as truly outstanding shooting. Engaging a moving target with a sidearm under the extreme duress that only a rapid mass murder in progress can bring on and scoring incapacitating hits while you yourself are running is not only admirable, it’s something that all who go about armed should occasionally (if not regularly) train for.

Even if you suffer limited mobility or other limiting factors, shooting on the move at something that is also not stationary isn’t a weird range drill … it’s the kind of shooting that you as a concealed carrier are the most likely to have to employ. Even in the “most common” circumstance listed above, your target will most likely be moving at least a little bit and you need to be moving in order to present to your attacker no better a target than necessary.

That’s close-in though. What about when you can’t smell the threat’s breath?

Say you’re pulling into the parking lot of a large store and, when you track some movement out of the corner of your eye, you see a young man behind the wheel of a parked pickup truck speaking animatedly into a cell phone that’s held in a bracket on the dashboard. He’s wearing all black clothing, but you can see large pockets and, as such, you can’t tell whether he’s wearing a vest of some kind over a black t-shirt or whether he’s wearing a cut-off black BDU blouse. You can’t quite tell; you’re driving and your attention is split between him and the other vehicles moving about in the area. You glance back and see what you swear is the front sight aperture of either an AR or AK-type rifle bobbing around his face, and he’s started moving and twisting in the cab of the truck. You’re about 35 yards away now, and his door pops open.

Yup, that certainly appears to be an AK-pattern rifle, and that certainly appears to be a vest covered with magazine pouches.

“Should I shoot?”

Rather than run down a list of the options as I see them, I want to focus on one very specific decision: Do you, at that moment, reach for your cell phone or your firearm?

If your answer is cell phone, exactly who are you going to call and exactly what are you going to say to them?

If your answer is firearm, what are we talking about here? Are you reaching for an LCP or similar pocket .380? Are you snapping the “truck gun” out of the roof rack and feeling especially grateful for the 30-round magazine of 7.62 NATO you have on hand? Maybe something in between? Do you drop it into gear and commence to ramming speed? Or do you sit there like a lot of folks will, reinforcing the reality that not making a decision is, in and of itself, making a decision?

“Should I shoot?”

To a law enforcement officer, the most important point of order at that moment would be to ensure that the man getting out of the vehicle with a rifle did not get into the large store and start shooting. If you’re a sworn officer of the law, you immediately verbally engage him to clarify what exactly is happening, and if necessary, you do everything in your power to keep him from getting inside and starting to shoot, period.

But private citizens aren’t law enforcement officers.

The cop or trooper who just drives away from this scene isn’t just letting down his department and wildly shirking his duty, he’s breaking the oath that he swore and fundamentally breaking the trust he is supposed to hold between himself and the community he serves. If it can be proven that he knowingly and intentionally fled the scene of a rapid mass murder, there will definitely be professional repercussions for him, and he would also be open to civil suits brought by the families of the murder victims.

A private citizen? Your average Joe Range-Bag who carries a concealed sidearm just to be safe rather than sorry?

The private citizen always has the option of just driving away.

Should I Shoot?

The circumstance in the parking lot described above is a heck of a challenge to take on, but it’s one that everyone who carries should at least think over before (God forbid) they’d have to decide to investigate, accept or decline it. All of this is compounded by the fact that you don’t yet even have an articulable, concrete reason to shoot at this man. For all you know, he’s one of those open carry activists and this is his way of showing everyone in town what a big boy he is now. Maybe he was live-streaming a Facebook rant about how unfairly targeted open-carry activists are and how he’s about to peacefully walk into this big-box store with a GoPro strapped onto his chest to prove it.


But I wouldn’t bet lives on it.

What say you?

For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Robert Bradley March 3, 2017, 9:57 am

    What if the guy with the gun is taking it into the sporting store to be returned for service or warranty work? Some might say it should be cased! Maybe, in some states, like Alaska, people come in from the bush, weigh your options carefully! Is this person innocent, had he just called the store to tell them he’ll be coming in with his rifle, unloaded! Is he pointing it at anyone targeting them, with today’s laws, are you prepared to get involved and loose everything, your retirement, your home, possibly your marriage? Sadly, even if justified, it’s up to the local cops and ultimately the district attorney’s office even if your justified, you’ll loose! $50,000 minimum cost to fight charges from the state, which unless you’ve had a badge at some point, your most likely getting charged! Then after that, the family or the bad guy will sue you for everything you have left! This is why we need laws which protect individuals who are legally defending themselves or others! Is the shooter defending themselves or are they in fact the shooter? Better be darn sure! Some DA’s will charge you with endangering others even if no one was around, god forbid a miss and an innocent is shot but you just keeps many others from being shot or killed! Either way, laws need to be changed currently, your going to loose if your a private citizen! So get off your not my problem arss and pester the hell out of your legislators to pass Castle Doctrine, no duty to retreat, and Constitutional Carry, and other laws to protect you from loosing everything you own! Pass laws which at least forces your state to refund all your money spent to prove your innocent, and pass laws which stops families from sueing you if your found innocent! This is just as important as carry laws! Possibly more important!

  • Steve March 3, 2017, 9:05 am

    Be proficient. Be decisive. Be close enough to make the first shot count. Because, if you miss you’ll probably get shot. 25 yards is about the max for most with a side arm. I went to the range 4-6 times a week after work for many years. I’d say during that time, I’d have a high percentage chance of hitting a perp mid mass. But there is much to consider. This isn’t a silhouette or paper target. It’s one that’s going to shoot back hard. Who is in the line of fire behind the perp, and behind you. I’d hope to have a full size pistol if I had to act. Hopefully it never has to happen.

  • sifter February 24, 2017, 2:31 pm

    For all you guys who say ” I’m not a hero’ and drive off, let’s add to the action abit. The guy with AK strays entering the store. Your wife and 9 year old daughter are shopping inside. Still feel good about driving off? I don’t want to be a hero either, but generally when first people on the scene engage immediately, lives are saved.

  • Capt D February 24, 2017, 12:08 am

    Call 911, place phone on speaker and keep open communication with police while continuing to observe from afar. The last thing I would want to do is yell at this guy and potentially provoke this guy into a gun fight knowing he has me severely out gunned. Putting my CCW pistol marksmanship with 18 rounds of 9mm on my person into a challenge against the efficiency and accuracy of an AR or AK at 100 feet give or take is just stupid thinking. And why would I want to get closer and follow him?? 30 rounds in the mag and the possibility of more waiting in the vest is potential suicide and I would not have any idea of how proficient this guy is.
    Tactical practice is in my training weekly and monthly shooting AR’s, AK’s and I know the deadly accuracy and firepower they are capable of. One important decision about conceal carry is that you do have the ability to pick your fight and opportunity. The best gun fight to win is the one you where able to avoid. Need to leave this one to the people better equipped. Just my take..

    • Former military & sheriff March 10, 2017, 3:50 am

      One rule of thumb I have always practiced after seeing a fat biker in dead cow absorb 9mm rounds with little effect they didn’t penetrate the jacket because the fat gave and the leather was thicker than any kevlar. Always carry something that starts with .4 or is larger. A .40 cal is a fickle beech and needs numerous range time constantly to keep and stay proficient. Which leads to a .45 which is a little slower than your 9mm but hits like a sledgehammer which is still accurate but if you practice bullet drop then you know where to aim at what distance. Unless you have hot rounds which you shouldn’t use in a standard .45 in a Glock they are ok I have a few that measured out at 1700 fops made by Agilla spelling could be off called the IQ round they are generally my 2nd -5th rounds they will defeat body armor that’s why they are no longer manufactured. But a pistol should only be employed to get you to your long gun. In Tennessee you can carry long guns in your vehicle and .223 green pencils will defeat all kevlar and most plates cause it has a steal core penetrator.

  • Edward Glenn February 3, 2017, 5:16 pm

    I got a CCW for self defence of myself, and my family, not to play hero. I’d immediately call in the pros to do their job, monitor the actions of the “bad guy” until they got there, and pray my little 9mm was enough, if he came my way.

  • kimberproSS February 3, 2017, 4:59 pm

    It is impossible to determine what to do other than keep cover between the two of us. I can see myself observing the individual first trying to get a read on the body language. Is this a fellow patriot going to his apartment with is firearm after a shooting range visit, or is he agitated. If agitated, acting a little goosey, better safe to call 911 and explain what I observe and let them know I will stay as an observer until the LEO arrives (giving details of location and identification of me so as not to be shot). Apologizing to the fellow patriot after the LEO arrives because I called him in for nothing is OK. Until then, becoming armed I would observe, follow and watch what he does. If shots fired, or they turn on me aggressively, duck for cover and try to get in a position of advantage but not firing unless fired upon. Once shots fired, pray and fire. I struggle with firing first (In our day of litigation and liberal gun hatred) because it is impossible to really determine the target’s intent. But if I have the advantage of following and keeping cover, if it appears a shot is going to take place, making contact with a clear front sight and diverting attention my direction would be the first action. What happens from there is up to the target.

  • Jim February 3, 2017, 3:47 pm

    Easy for me. I am not a LEO so I call the cavalry and try to keep an eye on the situation to inform them when they arrive.
    If the guy starts shooting I might change my mind but getting myself killed isn’t my top priority.

  • Erick February 3, 2017, 3:29 pm

    Very good article (and I’m assuming the entire series is as well, but I haven’t read them [yet]). It brings up many issues which most people do not even consider.
    While I cannot speak for everyone, I hope most concealed carry holders believe the way that I do – that if a crime involving serious harm and/or death is occurring or about to occur, that we’d intervene and save lives. If I’m not at the scene, but my non-carrying friends & family are, I would hope other like-minded individuals would do their very best to remedy the situation and thereby save my family/friends and everyone else. I would risk my life to do the same for yours; and have had the (unfortunate) occasion of doing so. If more people broke free of the “sheep” mentality (i.e. wait for someone ELSE to come to the rescue) then society in general would be better off.
    Our protection is OUR responsibility – not government, not the police, not even the military. This attitude will force you to think differently, better and more independently…that government-sponsored “kool-aid” most of us have guzzled down for generations is too carcinogenic. Time to think in a healthier manner! 😉
    Good article!

  • Ed February 3, 2017, 2:12 pm

    This is an excellent article and the comments also reflect the difficulty of these situations. I have friends that carry now to ‘protect’ us from terrorists but I have my doubt how much effective protecting will happen if it ever came to shots fired. I look forward to reading all the other chapters. For now I am only worried about home defense, which thankfully has so many fewer variables than the scenario above.

  • Joseph February 3, 2017, 1:33 pm

    A short comment, almost off topic, but responsive to the article. While an LEO may get fired for evading and driving away, he will NOT be held liable for the death/injury of the victims. Several cases have decided the (shocking to some) tenet that law enforcement has no duty to protect a citizen. This is true even if the LEO is on duty, responding to the call where a victim is injured.
    I think the prudent response, if you are going to insert yourself, would be to make that 911 call and describe yourself. Then follow as unobtrusively as possible. Get ready to A. calm yourself as much as possible to make a proper (whole discussion around that word) shot if the need arises and B. Observe to be a good witness and respond to police commands when they eventually arrive. Remember – that oddball looking guy with the oddball firearm may BE the LEO. You kill an undercover cop and you have still . . . killed a cop.

  • James Rice February 3, 2017, 11:50 am

    Call 911 give detailed description of individual from what you can see with him in the car which might be limited to gender, race or skin tone, clothing and the exact location of suspect vehicle, make an model and identifiers and license plate if you can see it.

    Give your exact location with color and vehicle model. Clearly state that the second location is that of a WITNESS so an LEO on the way doesn’t mix you up with the suspect. Before LEO arrives get out you ID and CCW if you have/need one and put them on the dashboard so if asked to produce them your hands are always visible.

    If you are going to get involved and potentially shoot someone you better know what your state law requires typically something like: A reasonable belief of an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to self or others. Look up your states requirement now so you know ahead of an incident.

    You better know how good you are at shooting, if the suspect has an AK, AR or similar weapon you’ll need to quickly disable that person or face a volume of fire that would likely be the last thing you hear.[Remember that it is impossible to distinguish many BB guns or plastic toy guns from the real thing.]

    A mistake is shooting someone is both a trip to the Grand Jury and a civil law suit. Civil law suits are enough in many cases even when the shooter did everything right. The family of a dead thug will definitely see the deceased as “someone just about to turn his life around” and seek millions in damages. Even if you win the suit it costs at lot money. You homeowners insurance may cover those attorney fees that if there is an actual trial will be in 6-figures.

  • Bob February 3, 2017, 10:43 am

    Great food for thought….this is why I am thinking of carrying an AR in the car….in the Gunshine State (Fla.) it is legal….I usually have the Glock 17 there with extra mags in a case and a little J in my pocket….all this seems way overkill….until it’s not. I have always thought God was great but when somebody yells that and starts shooting I think we have to do what we can to help. If open carry is legal then throw the AR over your shoulder and follow at a distance. If not call 911 and follow with the Glock in the case so nobody is the wiser….in any case you can’t escalate until he does….

  • Josh February 3, 2017, 9:56 am

    I would yell at him, and maybe show my gun, to see how he reacts.

  • J Scott February 3, 2017, 9:26 am

    I would definitely pick up the phone and call police. Then I would hope they got there before, I had to make another decision.

  • Thomas Wilson February 3, 2017, 8:19 am

    It’s interesting to me – old middle of the road guy – that the same Guns America newsletter included this – “Oh me! A guy with a gun! Shall I shoot him?” and an insulted reaction to a court ruling that says a cop can disarm you at a traffic stop. 1. You are a bystander who is worried about the armed guy. 2. The cop is doing his job and he’s worried about the armed guy.

  • Tj2000 February 3, 2017, 5:16 am

    One question to all the range bag rangers (I like that term).
    Is it immediate or imminent?
    Most of my fellow LEO’s will know the answer.
    This is a great series I wish you would put it in a book form because this would be great for training in CWL classes.

  • Dustin Eward February 3, 2017, 4:33 am

    What if the guy with the AK is responding to the guy inside that you can’t see?

    The presumption that you’re a special snowflake with a gun, and nobody else could possibly have a gun, too, and be of the same mindset…

  • Will Drider February 1, 2017, 10:47 am

    If you have a CWP, you should also be well versed in the applicable Laws which leads to peripheral knowledge on your locations OC Laws. This can cut your interpetation of the activity (no threat yet) in half. Is there a gun shop or shooting range at that location or a bank maybe a school? Now that the person of interest is out of the vehicle, how is he handling/carrying the rifle? One hand not trigger/grip ready, slung over shoulder or high/low ready, mag in/out?

    It is dangerous both criminally and civilly for civilians to be pro-active with lethal force. If there is not a clear and present threat you should not display your firearm of employ any use of force. Just as people are innocent until proven guilty, unless your justified to use lethal force “line in the sand” is crossed, don’t!

    AK verses belly gun. Due diligence dictates you don’t insert yourself into a active gunfight with a knife. Same reasoning should be applied to inserting yourself in a situation where you are outgunned. This can be offset slightly by your level of skill as previously experienced, surprise, cover, concealment and tactics. Lets apply the three common pillars in murder trials. Motive: is there a clearly defined treat to you or others? Means: do you have the equipment and skills to stop the threat or reduce it? Opportunity: to change to BGs desired result without unnecessarily endangering others or can you create such a opportunity.

  • Chris January 31, 2017, 6:03 pm

    That’s a tough one but at that point you do not have a legal case for self defense in the eyes of the law, just because you see someone in a vest with what appears to be an AK style patterned rifle. He has not threatened you or anyone else at that point and if you did act before he did anything then how would anyone know what his intentions were and you would most likely go to jail. You either follow him as much as possible, ready to act while phoning the police or go bold, get outside your vehicle, take cover (as much as possible) and verbally engage him on what his intentions are and be prepared to react. I think that’s about your only reasonable course of action. If you evade as a private citizen that is your choice, but if people do die and you might have been able to help, well you’ll have to live with that. I think if you carry concealed everyone should have that talk with themselves internally and decide on what they are willing or prepared to do in a self defense situation or active shooter situation before it happens.

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