Ep. 38 Should I Shoot? Lunch Date Gone Wrong

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:

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • loupgarous March 3, 2017, 5:07 pm

    Having seen an altercation apparently quelled by someone placing someone else in reasonable fear of losing her life or being grievously armed. you’re quivering on the cusp of being able to justifiably kill the man with the gun under his napkin. His attention’s on the woman. If your piece isn’t in Condition One, ready to go, discreetly put it there, and if that means drawing, go to the bathroom, call 911, explain you’ve got a man menacing a woman with a gun there, get into Condition One, then go out ready to do what you have to.

    If he goes for the gun, kill him. How? Multiple shots to center-mass is how we’re all trained, so go for center mass with th trained reflexes you have and hope that your shots at least put him out of the lady-threatening business. Watch her, too, because you may just have wandered into a domestic quarrel, and in those, both parties turn on police arriving at the scene with depressing regularity.

    I’ve actually saved a woman’s life who was being strangled just outside my door by stepping outside my house armed with a small-bore semi-automatic pistol and ordering the assailant to get his hands off his victim’s neck. My wife called 9/11 while I did that, so she and the Houma, Louisiana police department were my backup (the HPD police officer who arrived told me privately after securing the assailant inside his cruiser that this would have been a “family honor killing” had I not intervened). Would I have gone for the kill if he tightened his grip on the woman? Yes, after getting to an angle and distance where I had a decent chance of killing him and not her. Standing there and watching her die wasn’t an option.

  • gate 2017 mechanical results February 15, 2017, 12:50 am

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  • murphy January 20, 2017, 4:40 pm

    Few words that might save some \”cowboy\” with a gun from going to trail and prison.
    1) Is there an immediate threat to YOU? or anyone else.
    2) Does time allow for notification and response by LEOs
    3) Are there bystanders/patrons that could be harmed/killed by your intervention
    Remember not all fights are your fight – not every situation requires you to be the hero.
    I would personally causally leave – call 911 when outside – watch should they leave – get all the info I can. If the situation changes and lives are at risk – at least you will be outside – standing up – and knowing LEOs are on the way. Heck this could be a family dispute – a drug deal gone bad – a police/federal sting operation – who knows. But a cowboy shooting up the place when no one is in immediate danger is not what we need in a public setting where more people could be harmed than saved.

    • Damon January 21, 2017, 12:00 pm

      Your last example would be one of my worst fears. In this scenario, I just drew, aimed, and shot an undercover DEA agent through the medulla oblongata in a restaurant in front of 20 witnesses, including his partner across the table who was working with him to create some scenario I was not privy to.

      My real-world luck runs to things like that.

  • Mike Watkins January 20, 2017, 1:17 pm

    I agree with comments already posted. NO you don’t draw and shoot the guy. You have absolutely no info about the situation other than seeing gun, crying woman, etc.

    I would agree the best course is to leave restaurant, phone police and describe what you saw, then remain available to give statement to police after THEY determine the facts.

    Of course you are also available near front of restaurant in case situation develops into something where you can be 100% positive your armed intervention is essential, UP TO THE TIME the cops arrive. Like, you hear the shots from inside then see the man fleeing.

  • KimberproSS January 20, 2017, 10:49 am

    I think my approach would be to walk away and call 911 and return to a location that I could watch the situation. Not knowing anything more than what I observed, unless this guy does something really aggressive with the gun, no shots fired, but be available to point out to the police. Sadly, even if my actions to draw on this person were the correct actions, the pain associated with the consequences, especially if a shot was fired, would be life changing to a level to avoid if possible.

  • T.J. FREYTAG JR January 20, 2017, 10:44 am

    I agree with Ron’s assessment, except going into the restroom for the 911 call appears more normal than going outside & coming back in. You would never consider shooting unless it escalated to the immediate or immanent threat described by the other T.J.

  • Ron Stidham January 20, 2017, 9:01 am

    After noticing the BG, my next move is to survey my surroundings for additional BG’s. If then it seems that he is the only one, calmly walk to the exit and make the call-inform the Police of what is about to happen, and that you are going to intervene. Inform them of your description and your whereabouts in the restaurant. Let things happen as if you never saw a thing until there is no other option. Try and wait for law enforcement to arrive. Better to be wrong about the situation than placed on murder charges for a bad decision.

  • Bob January 20, 2017, 7:28 am

    What if the big guy with the gun is a cop and is dealing with a fugitive that is known to be violent?

  • R. Creech January 20, 2017, 7:07 am

    Who’s to say that he didn’t just tell his wife that he just saw a man walk into the store with a gun, that he drew and hid his gun for fear of being harmed during a burglary, and that she was crying because she was scared.

    • Flyboyron January 20, 2017, 2:47 pm

      This is the only “what if” presented that gives me serious pause as to what might actually be going on. The others are pretty far-fetched, IMHO.
      If he was a cop, why hide the fact, and why sit in a fast food restaurant with a “known violent” felon(ess)? Nah…
      In any case, the threat is not imminent, at least to me, or my family. Others, I’ll need a little more threat to intervene.

  • Bob January 20, 2017, 6:17 am

    What if the big guy with the gun is actually a cop and the woman is a fugitive that’s known to be dangerous?

  • Tj2000 January 20, 2017, 4:57 am

    In Florida as law enforcement and its citizens there ars two words we learn the meaning of (1) immediate (2) immanent.
    (1) immediate means there is a threat but its just that because the man is threatening the lady and even shows a gun does not allow us to draw and shoot. until he places her in a higher level of danger like putting the gun in her face or pointing it at her, you should not shoot.
    (2) imminent means he has drawn his weapon and is pointing at her or you because you seem to be fixated on their conversation. You can act with deadly force because at that point any reasonable person would perceive the imminent danger to another person.
    By the way, I really enjoy your article of shoot, don’t shoot.
    TJ

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