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. 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?
- Ep. 37 Should I Shoot? The Crazy Man With the Knife
So, over the last few months, we’ve studied several scenarios that explore whether deadly force would be the best course of action in a given situation. All of them were designed specifically for that reason: to get you, our readers, to discuss different thought processes and outlooks on defensive violence and to make everyone think a little more than they otherwise might have about the gun they carry every day. This entry will be no different, but it will involve a physical position that is all too often neglected in many training circles.
Say you’re sitting at a two-chair table next to the window in a fast-casual restaurant waiting for your order to be brought out to you. Your chair is of the swivel variety and it is permanently affixed to the floor. You’re reading a book or the paper or your phone or whatever you’d be doing in such a situation, when a woman in the booth immediately across the restaurant from you begins yelling at the man across the table from her. It’s loud enough that it makes everyone uncomfortable, and as you scan your eyes past them, you notice the man smoothly but very quickly bring a pistol up from under the table and conceal it under a burgundy cloth napkin next to his right hand. The woman is crying, but it appears that he’s warned her to remain as silent as possible as she very suddenly places both of her elbows on the table, clamps both hands over her mouth and tries to muffle as much of her crying as she can.
The man is in his mid-30s and extremely large; he appears to be about 6 feet 5 inches tall and probably weighs more than 300 pounds. The woman is in her mid-40s and is of average build; she is probably 5 feet 5 inches tall and 140 pounds. They are facing each other in a restaurant booth immediately to your right, and there is a pair of square four-chair tables between you and them, neither of which are occupied. The woman is now obviously trying to regain her composure and the man continues to whisper to her in a hissed, low tone. You have no idea what’s going on, but you can tell that it’s not on the up-and-up and you can see that the man’s already drawn a weapon. From your right shoulder to his left earlobe is about 20 feet.
Should I shoot?
What I just described are the circumstances that led up to a shooting that occurred some number of years ago when an off-duty police officer grabbing a sandwich spotted a violent predator meeting with the mother of a girl he was threatening over a drug debt. It was an extremely, almost excruciatingly difficult situation, and it was happening in a restaurant filled with innocent people.
But enough about the off-duty cop for now. Let’s get back to you.
So, there you are, not able to just pretend you didn’t see that gun come up from under the table. You can surmise that the man is implicitly threatening the woman’s life with a pistol, and you can surmise that if she had her way, she would be far away from where she is right now. You know that this is exactly what human trafficking, kidnapping, rape and all kinds of other nightmares look like, and you know that you really ought to do something in order to help that woman and stop that man.
From where I sit, you have a few options.
You could get up, walk out of the restaurant as if you have no idea what’s going on, get in your vehicle and then dial 911. This would probably be the safest course of action and the one that would afford you the highest chances of escaping the incident unharmed. After you’re out of the restaurant, the decision of whether to flee would be up to you, but no one ever said that hanging around the scene of an armed kidnapping was a SAFE course of action.
You could get up, walk out, call 911 and then try something Hollywood, like pulling a fire alarm. The goal there would be to get everyone else out of the restaurant and bring the authorities into the picture without the man seeing you holding a phone. The upside is that everybody would leave the restaurant; the downside is that “everybody” includes the man and woman, and who knows what they’d do next.
You could get up, walk to the restroom, call 911 and then return to your table. After there, it would be up to you to figure out how and when to draw without losing the element of surprise. Remember, it certainly doesn’t look like the man knows that you know that he’s got a pistol under that napkin. You’re pretty sure that you could get a clear shot from where you are, and big as he is, he’s still completely below the line of the cinderblock wall that forms the main partition in the restaurant. The man has put his left arm up on the top of the bench seat, exposing his left armpit directly to you, and you’re almost positive that a round from your sidearm wouldn’t make it through his entire chest cavity and the wall behind him.
Should I shoot?
With his arm up like that, he’s presenting you quite a shot. A string of rounds through the armpit will certainly deliver devastating results, and it’s basically what deer hunters are after when they “shoot right behind the shoulder.” But would those shots be immediately incapacitating? At that range, a bullet below the ear right at the TMJ certainly would be, so it’s not that you’re out of options. It does, however, raise three additional questions:
- Have you trained to make shots that are that precise at that kind of distance?
Heading to so-and-so’s shooting school for another defensive pistol class is all well and good, but none of the perfect scores I’ve ever shot required that I hit something the size of a (potentially moving) cherry tomato at 20 feet within a second of drawing my gun and absolutely, positively hit it on the first shot or somebody dies.
- Have you trained to access your firearm from a seated position?
We all start out assessing a holster the same way: We install it in the intended position, clear our sidearm of any and all ammunition and begin to practice our draws. As fast as you might be with your current setup while standing, have you trained with it in a seated position? Do you know exactly how you will mount that gun in order to deliver your shot? And what is your plan for getting off the X after you’ve taken your shot?
- Speaking of which, are you certain that you can land that threat-stopping “lightswitch” shot so after the bullet hits him and does its thing, he won’t be able to get his hand on that pistol and start firing?
You’re basically in a hostage crisis but haven’t yet revealed yourself to be the sniper. If you do elect to shoot, you have to completely neutralize the man who looks all the world like a guy who’s either already kidnapped or is in the process of kidnapping the woman across the table from him, and you probably have to do it in one shot.
- Come to think of it, are you prepared to articulate exactly why you elected to employ deadly force against a stranger who was seated across a table from a crying woman?
A prosecutor or District Attorney might make the argument that, yes, the man you shot had a gun on the table under a napkin, but you had a gun in your pants; to the average juror that neither attorney got removed during the selection process, which sounds weirder? Who’s to say he had any less of a right to his gun than you had to your gun? (Never mind that the man in question might be a convicted violent felon. That kind of detail has a way of finding its way out of scripted in-court statements.)
Should I shoot?
If I should, at what am I shooting? What am I doing after I take my shot? And how am I going to articulate to my attorney exactly why I did what I did?
The off-duty officer drew and fired a round into the man’s left ear, stopping (and killing) him instantly. I’ve no idea what became of that officer, but I’d bet that his department backed him on the shoot and all it wound up generating was local news coverage and a mention in a police academy’s firearms unit 20-some years later.
If you have to shoot, who’s backing you up?
For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.