Ep. 42 Should I Shoot? When Do You Call 911?

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:

Well, we’ve all had a pretty harrowing few months here at “Should I Shoot?” what with all of the random attacks and razor-thin margins for error and borderline exchanges of gunfire. Let’s take this week off and just have a seat, pour a cup of coffee or a tall tea, put our feet up and scan the local news.

Let’s say that you’re doing just that and come across a story about a semi-rural man in your area who shot an intruder in his home.

The resident heard a scratching noise in his dilapidated garage at about 10 p.m. Thinking it was likely the raccoon that had recently been raiding his trash cans that the county demanded be stored “indoors or otherwise secured,” he grabbed and charged a 20-gauge pump shotgun that he’d left by the door in hopes of getting a shot at the furry little bandit as it ran out into the wooded area behind his garage.

When he got to the unlocked door that connected his kitchen to his garage, he still heard the noise, so he opened the door very quickly and jumped through it, slamming it behind him. (The last thing he wanted to do was have the raccoon get into his house.) Turning on the light and grabbing the doorknob of the door that led to the backyard, he saw … a middle-aged man pulling a knife from the sheath on his belt while stumbling toward him, eyes bugged out, obviously very startled and angry.

The resident instinctively pointed and fired a load of #6 birdshot into the upper chest cavity of the burglar-turned-attacker, who promptly died before the resident could even dial 911.

Well, dang. Neither of them were expecting THAT.

This happened about 20 years ago to a mild-mannered semi-rural individual who owned a pump shotgun for a few rounds of clays every summer and the occasional trip to a pheasant farm with some buddies from work. There wasn’t a violent or even particularly aggressive bone in his body; in fact, his blubbering on the phone made the 911 dispatcher initially think that he was the one who’d been shot, and then when his wife came downstairs and learned what had happened, she grabbed the phone and made it sound as if another man had been shot since the resident first called. Like they so often are, this deadly-force encounter quickly went from a completely normal evening to a complete disaster in the span of seconds.

So, you’re reading this story on your phone or in your local paper and it gets you thinking:

What if he’d gone out there with a broom to shoo the animal out the door? What if his wife had gone out there with a broom to shoo the animal out the door? What if, rather than his survival instinct fortunately kicking in and saving his mild-mannered hide with the shotgun he was fortunate enough to be holding, he’d been holding a broom that would have turned the circumstance from a rather clear-cut defensive gun use into the world’s most exciting karate tournament?

All of this gets you thinking about the line we read in so many of these use-of-force stories: “The homeowner took up a firearm and went to investigate.”

So, in a break from form, I guess I have to ask: Should I call?

If you hear “a noise” that seems out of place — night or day — do you call the police before you do anything else? Maybe the non-emergency number, just to let them know that you heard something weird and you’re going to investigate?

Well … no. Were you to call your local police non-emergency number every time you heard a strange noise, you would quickly become that department’s least-favorite citizen. (Believe it or not, some people actually do call the non-emergency number every time they hear a noise; any dispatcher could tell you stories you wouldn’t believe.) Moreover, were you to call 911 every time you heard a weird noise and didn’t stop after several stern talking-tos from shift sergeants, you would likely be literally jailed.

What makes this a serious problem is that quite often, after someone has no choice but to employ deadly force in self-defense, a common question from the anti-gunners is, “Well, why didn’t he call the cops?” (SPOILER ALERT: Had he thought that the situation merited a call to the cops or had he the time to do so, guess what? He would have called the cops.)

I mean, think about it.

If I know that I have a load of laundry in the dryer and if I know that there are rivets on some of those jeans, I’ll understand that there will likely be some noises emanating from that dryer. Every now and then, though, I’ll hear something odd enough coming from my laundry room that I’m going to walk over and make sure that the washer isn’t unbalanced and making a run for the guest bedroom.

And when I do so, I’ll be — at least in the eyes of the law — “taking up a firearm to go investigate.”

As someone who is basically always carrying a handgun or handguns whenever he’s not sleeping or bathing, I am by definition “taking up a firearm to go investigate” anytime I go anywhere to investigate anything.

Should I call?

If I’m going anywhere on my property and I’m carrying a gun, if I end up having to use it to defend myself, all of a sudden, now I’m a guy who “took up a firearm to go investigate” and didn’t call emergency services before doing so.

Which, to be honest, doesn’t always play the best in a police report or in a prosecutor’s opening statement.

My rule of thumb is that if I’m not specifically thinking that what’s about to happen will possibly be dangerous, I never call anything in. If I do think that something might be dangerous and I am specifically headed over with a firearm, I’m calling 911 and explaining exactly what’s going on (situation permitting, of course.)

Problem is, the latter is only about 0.00001 percent of anyone’s daily activities.

So, let’s say you hear something at 2:30 tomorrow morning, and it’s weird enough that you’re hopping out of bed. It could be the furnace, could be the water heater, could be the dog … you have no idea. Since the world can be a not-so-nice place when it’s dark, you grab a flashlight and a sidearm.

Should I call?

I’d be interested to know what you think.

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 }
  • Capt D February 24, 2017, 12:18 pm

    Ya know, the thing I like about these Should I Shoot or Call scenario’s is that it makes you think. Moreover than just taking a few minutes to read them I have found if I respond with comment, now it is entered into my mental preparedness for future reference. I have found that actually responding with comment, whether I send it or not, I have taken several minutes (or more) to really think about the scenario and what I would do in the event something similar happens. Isn’t this the purpose of these articles in the first place, mental preparedness? My father raised me to “Learn from other people’s mistakes”. Its definitely a lifelong learning experience in this world of uncertainty.
    My response to should I call; In the first scenario the resident was lucky enough to have been armed and it saved his life. Which just drives home the point even more that it is a necessity to be prepared 24/7 away from or at home no matter what.
    In our home my wife and I are awakened often because of the dogs getting comfortable many times through the night. Sometimes they bump the wall or door that will wake me up and I lay and listen to be sure it was them. Other times its my son who woke up from a bad dream and is coming into our room in the middle of the night. So I believe that in everyone’s home, or at least in mine we know the “Norm” of what goes on within our walls including bumps in the night. Its when the bump turns into a ‘BANG’ that’s going to drive the dogs into a fierce bark. (Instant protection mode) A couple of things are going to happen after my wife and I climb down from off the ceiling; A would be intruder ‘should’ stop his assent into the home with three Doberman’s instantly barking loudly and ferociously. This means as well that he/they did not pay attention to the beware of dog signs on the fence they had to climb over.
    Because the dogs are in a frenzy of alertness and protection I am already armed and my wife is on the phone calling 911. At the opposite side of the home where the bang came from I am letting two dogs out to survey and protect the property. With lights off in the home we can see the yard with motion lights switched on from either the dogs or the intruder. I hope he’s fast because it’s 50 yards to the fence line 360 from the house. I would imagine a few things are going to happen from there; #1. We know the cops are on their way. #2. Should we spot the intruder running for his life from the dogs and we have visually confirmed the threat is being detoured. #3. Should we hear gun shots and the dogs become silent we now know the intruder is armed. #4. If the alarm has not already been tripped we push the panic button to trip the local siren, gather our son and head for the safe room steps away with my 3rd pup and are informing the police the intruder(s) is armed.
    With all of this commotion you would think that a would be intruder(s) would realize he/they have been discovered, picked the wrong house and are retreating quickly. Final thought; Knowing the intruder(s) escaped prior to police arrival, wouldn’t it be nice to know in the aftermath that the intruder(s) were arrested at the local emergency room getting attention for dog bites. Daddy Likey..

  • Mongo February 21, 2017, 10:00 pm

    Let’s separate two issues: 1. The entire time you are awake, you should be carrying. You do not need a CWP to carry on your property, especially if you live in the country, so explaining why you have a gun on you is a non-issue. 2. The noise in the middle of the night…if its outside and not sounding like its trying to come inside, I’m all for making sure you are awake, have your gun and flashlight, shoes, robe (or other preferred clothes) because if it is a bugger-ler, hopefully they figure somebody woke up (when the lights go on), will probably come their way (armed) and they just take off. But, I would maintain within the safety of the house and use a very powerful flashlight to light up the area as best as you can, keeping the phone close. You see someone, do what you can to get him to give up and spread eagle on the ground while dialing the LEO. Nothing I have is worth dying for, but not too much I would kill for either. I do not want to be a rural-Rambo and get my butt in a sling (legally, criminal/civil charges/lawsuit, etc)over killing some punk who is acting a fool out in my non-connected garage and shop. if the outside noise is coming inside, give fair warning and be ready to defend yourself, with intense trigger pulling.
    One night we hears a commotion near my garage and I was on the porch. Figuring the bugger-ler was hiding while I swept the area with a spotlight, I turned it off, turned on my weapon mounted laser and started sweeping it all around the area while yelling “that red light you’re seeing is the laser on my gun, if you value your life, leave, cuz I ain’t gonna miss”. Needless to say, all I say were butthole and elbow hauling back through the woods.
    So, stay safe, stay smart, don’t go looking for extra trouble and if need, let LEO handle it, that’s their job.

  • Vince R February 19, 2017, 10:31 am

    Middle of the night, the doorbell rings. I grab my 9mm to go investigate while I have the wife call 911 while taking cover in a safe room.

    I scour the house and yard; nothing. Likely some kids (although could just as easily been someone watching to see if anyone reacted) so no harm, no foul. BUT, had it been something else, it took the cops ~10min before they drove by the house. And I live in a very suburban area in SoCal.

    So, a call can be prudent, but I’m not looking at it as an alternative to common sense….

  • Barkus Rudis February 17, 2017, 4:31 pm

    Inside or outside the house, the intruder attempted to attack a potential victim. I say the resident was justified as it was a life threatening situation. Place this scenario at a park, a theatre or restaurant. Same result.

  • gary February 17, 2017, 11:50 am

    You make it seem like you want people to go to your site listed below the article, nice ploy/con. Call, if outside the house let the Police handle it, the minute you walk outside with a weapon the Police will assume you could be the issue.

  • don comfort February 17, 2017, 8:43 am

    Thankfully I live in a Pro gun rights State. Among other protections,we have the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your ground. There is no “one shoe fits all’ answer for when to call the cops or just investigate on your own. Ditto on when it is O.K. to confront and shoot someone. Each case is based SOLELY on its own merits. I teach the class in my State for CCW. I tell my students, they and they alone will have to explain their actions when the Police show up. In short if you are in fear of your life,or serious bodily harm, are in a place you are lawfully entitled to be and you are not committing a crime at that time, you have a strong case for self defense in my State. i realize other states have different laws and as they say “when in Rome,do as the Romans do”

  • Pastor B Stevens February 17, 2017, 5:24 am

    Thought about this many times , depending on a situation in our state you can’t shoot a person outside your home unless that person corners you in a way you must shoot to protect your own life . This is a millisecond decision and I bought insurance policy especially for CC or a situation like this . We live in a collage town lots of kids get wasted on a lot of chemical based drugs and drunk kids is a often event . We have a monster complex directly behind my home so we get a mess of problems . I bought a special flashlight a creed 4 bulb light that litterly will blind a person if shone in their open face . I’ve used it several times to stop a kid whom was off his rocker on substances abuse . I’d rather not need to shoot anyone but you can bet my side arm goes with me just in case . If there were a noise inside my home you can bet your going to see me with a tactical 12 gage investigating a unknown noise . If I ever find anyone inside my home I’ll ask them to freeze and don’t move , drop to your knees place your hands behind your head . The police will be called , even in my own home if a intruder is in my home I will not shoot unless they attempt to attack me . Shooting and most likely killing another citizen will mess up your life even if your justified . Lots of prosecuting attorneys build a reputation hoping to be considered for a higher position and any citizen is nothing but a chess piece to them . If you can avoid killing a intruder do so simply killing a intruder will haunt you in many ways . I’ve lived in the same house for 23 years I know the normal noises from strange sources .
    One night last year I was woke up to a terrible crashing sound I got up armed it was in my kitchen . My nephew was staying with us he to met me in the hallway , I had my bright creed flashlight and we meet a deranged cat . This poor creature was wild and tore up the kitchen as well as living room trying to escape . He got in through a small dog door , we eventually got him out the door but had I been trigger light anyone such as a house guest could be injured or killed if I were a trigger happy person investigating this terrible noise in the dark . If you can avoid killing any one even in a situation within your own inner home do so . As for this story with the man entering his garage armed I can’t imagine not investigating any un known noise within your inner house without being armed . This world has a healthy amount of burglars and it’s pretty uneasy knowing some do break in while your asleep . This event happened 2 years ago on our street several burglaries during the night . Any thief entering your home at night occupied by a resident that person is already dangerous knowing they are in a home occupied in the middle of the night . Most likely they to are armed with a weapon so don’t take a chance and investigate a unknown noise within your inner home have your firearm ready .

  • Will Drider February 15, 2017, 1:02 am

    First, their is a big difference between investigating inside the house and outside. There is a common warning “Nothing in this house is worth dying for.” Its projected for bad guy consumption. Truely it should be viewed as cautionary for the resident too. If their is a strange noise outside, what ever it is can be addressed in the morning. Your house is your security perimiter, don’t expose yourself or your family by breaching it. Observe, listen and report in darkness. If the value of what you have outside of in out buildings is such that you must go: wake the adults, brief and arm them, confirm you still have phone service and house power is still on. Have them lock door(s) behind you and return within your stated time limit or they call 911.

    Noises inside houses have a lot of variables. You probably recognize routine noise from HVAC, ice makers, waterpipes, even automatic air fresheners or your smart electronics running checks for updates. Many people wake when ambient background noise stops when their is a power failure. Familiar day noises aslso become out of place a night. Where you sleep should be a Safe Room or at least security reinforced. You have the advantage there to defend in place. Lets not forget your coming out of a dad sleep using body reflex until your mind clears, you could be down the hallway before your brain can really process whats going on. Did you move past the first bad guy in the corner of your bed room? While you brain spools up grab gear, listen for additional noise, watch the door. If you have a bed partner and your grabbing a gun: they should be too (this should be discussed in detail including partners plan of action. Don’t play mochoman, if you got backup us it even if its just securing the your Six. Got kids? This is your next priority: count noses and get them to the safe room. A lot of predators are found in kids rooms so sweep it enough to get kids out quickly. Active kids sleep hard, grab and go! Your layout may allow you to act as a buffer, proceed no further the single entry point as you don’t want someone slipping in behind you into areas you cleared.
    At this point your family is secure. Wait, listen several minutes. You will then need to decide to make the call or slowly clear the house and try to locate the source of the noise.

    True short story: 1979, Living off-Base in bad neighborhood but affordable Apt. 2:30AM (+-) loud crash. I grabbed my handgun and went to the bedrom door and started peeking down the hall towards the stairs, nothing. As I turn on the hall light I see a shotgun barrel angled down in te doorway across from me! I drew on wher I though the body holding it would be and screamed drop the gun several times: I didn’t move. After a few minutes I figured it out. I had a wood three place gun rack on the wall and it came loose dropping one side onto a dresser and slid the shotgun putting the barrel in the doorway. We didn’t call but three cops showed up and had a laugh once they got the story.

    What ever plan you have for things that go bump in the night, give yourself as much time as the situation allows to get a clear head, process information, respond cautiously placing value where it truely is.

  • Chris February 14, 2017, 4:57 pm

    I agree with you on what you wrote. I have never called the police because I heard something in the middle of the night or in my garage or backyard. I have always investigated it myself because chances are it is probably nothing and so far has been just that. Don’t get me wrong, there are times where I have thought there might be something going on and cautiously investigated with a flashlight and firearm, but again nothing has come of it. I guess that’s why I have never called the police because I have never really had a need too and did not want to be “that guy”. Now if I were to really know “hairs on the back of the neck and forearms standing up” type thing and knew someone was trying to enter my residence I would have my wife call 911while getting to the children and have myself with flashlight and gun in hand going to investigate and take up position. I guess my point is that when you really think that you should call 911 that’s when it will be to late because what’s going to happen is unfolding now, within seconds.

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