Ep. 34 Should I Shoot? ‘The Drop’

A robber enters a store and demands money from the cash register while pointing a gun at the store employee.

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:

Almost all defensive training of any kind — armed or unarmed — stresses that, “There’s no room for a fair fight when your life is on the line.” That’s very true, and I don’t want you to ever forget it. Where this can get dicey is in trying to decide when, exactly, your life is no longer on the proverbial line.

Real life is rarely as clean-cut as the movies. Come to think of it, it’s rarely even as clean-cut as training scenarios, even those run in high-quality schools. Real life has a tendency to be messy and unpredictable.

How messy and unpredictable? Allow me to insert you into an actual armed robbery that went down a while back.

Picture yourself in a small, narrow convenience store waiting in line to pay for your beverage. The man at the head of the line pulls a pistol and, in no uncertain terms, initiates a robbery. He orders all five of the rest of you to back up against the wall opposite the register and away from the door. You’re at the back of the line and too far away to immediately disarm him, so you and everyone else comply. As all of this happens, another young man moves out of the line and locks the only visible door of the store, which is up by the register; at this point, it’s worth assuming they’re working together.

You walk backward with the group and keep your hands in the traditional “surrender position” taught by countless instructors: palms out, elbows bent, biceps on your sides. The man with the gun returns his attention to the cashier and you make your way back with the crowd, all of you coming to rest about 30 feet from the counter.

You’ve calmed your breathing and you’re running the math: At this range, you’re confident that you can be out, up and accurately placing bullets within a second and a half. You silently take in all of the information that you can.

The one who’s at the register is holding a small pistol in his right hand and a drawstring backpack in his left. The one who locked the door is watching the guy with the gun, but he’s also glancing over at you — yes, you — every few seconds. The one holding the gun is wearing skinny jeans and a dark t-shirt; the other one’s hands are empty and he’s wearing long khaki shorts and an untucked flannel shirt.

For now, T-Shirt is concentrating on the cashier, who is shaking and crying as he clumsily empties the bills and change from the till into the bag. He’s begging for his life, and it’s making T-Shirt mad. Flannel over by the door is nervously slapping his left fist into his right palm, and he still keeps pausing whenever he scans past you. (Who knows why … maybe he thinks you look like someone who might be carrying a gun.) All told, T-Shirt seems to be all business, while Flannel looks like he wants to leave as soon as possible.

The money from the till is now in the backpack. As T-Shirt realizes cinching the drawstring will require both hands, he readjusts his grip on the gun and, as if in slow motion, he drops it. His eyes bulge, his left hand shoots out to grab it, and though he tries to bring it in for a fair catch, he actually knocks it away from himself. It goes skittering across the floor, coming to rest 15 feet from him and 20 feet from all of you. For what seems like 30 seconds but what is probably only a half a beat, everyone just stands there, motionless. T-Shirt starts to lunge — you can’t tell if it’s for the gun or the exit — and Flannel is frantically trying to unlock the door.

“Should I shoot?”

Let’s see.

T-Shirt is obviously dangerous. He was just threatening to murder all of you if you didn’t do what he said, but he’s dropped his gun, which might mean any number of things. It might mean that he’ll realize the whole situation’s now officially out of his control and, as such, he’ll just try to get away with the money. It might mean that he wants to get hold of that gun and use it to cover his and Flannel’s exit, only shooting if he deems it necessary, whatever that might mean. To a guy like that, “necessary” might mean that he’ll only shoot if any of you move, but being the kind of guy who would threaten to murder strangers for money, it might also mean that he’s a violent psycho who sees dropping that gun as embarrassing enough to right his mind by popping a few of you for laughing at him.

Moving on, everything you know about human body language has told you that Flannel wants out and that he thinks you are a potential threat to him and T-Shirt. If he’s been through the system before, he knows that if someone gets shot and killed right now, he’ll go down for what my home state calls “Felony Murder” — basically a life sentence because he knew exactly what the plan was when he walked in with T-Shirt and locked the door. Flannel doesn’t appear to be armed at the moment, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous and it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have something concealed under that big billowy shirt.

Both of them are currently concentrating on only one thing — getting away with this armed robbery — but unfortunately, you have no idea if that includes re-acquiring that pistol.

“Should I shoot?”

Well … how quickly can YOU be out, up and accurately placing gunfire? How much do you want to bet that Flannel can get the door unlocked before T-Shirt gets hold of that pistol? How close are they to the poor guy working the counter? Has he moved?

Do you make the bet that T-Shirt is going for that gun and, therefore, is about to present an imminent, unavoidable deadly threat to you or others?

Or do you look out for No. 1, ride it out and count on the poor marksmanship of this nation’s criminal class?

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

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Charles Bailey January 20, 2017, 7:07 pm

    My father, when I was just a lad, told me, “Fight to win or keep your hands in your pockets and your mouth shut.” To me that means if I decide I must buy into this situation, the first indication, of danger, either one of them is going to get from me is a flash of fire from my 1911 toward T-shirt and then toward flannel shirt. This is not the movies, I am not John Wayne and the two culprits had all the warning they deserved when they walked through the door and began the robbery. I read somewhere, “if you fight fair you are doing it wrong.”

  • JimV January 19, 2017, 5:15 pm

    1. DRAW. NOW. I’d have been mentally “coiled” to do that from the minute I saw a weapon, so the instant T-shirt lost his gun, mine’s out.

    2. Loudly, but clearly and as calmly as I can (adrenaline’s a hell of a thing on your vocal cords) command him to freeze. If T-shirt flinches or hesitates, as he hopefully will as soon as I act, I have the initiative and can probably control the situation from that point out (but I’m ready to shoot if he does something stupid).

    3. I will have moved away from the other hostages (just a few steps) from the moment I drew my weapon, hopefully keeping them out of any fire, and getting myself closer to cover just in case.

    3. If T-shirt complies, back him and his accomplice up against the wall or put them down on the ground, and direct the cashier or another hostage (whoever appears most in control) to call 911 immediately. Make sure the cashier/hostage tells the 911 operator that the guy now holding the gun (me) is a good guy; don’t want the cops thinking I’m their bad guy. 911 stays on the line with the caller until police arrive.

    4. If T-shirt doesn’t comply and touches the gun, shoot. I have the drop on him and it’s an easy shot. If Flannel displays any kind of aggression, shoot. They’re both immediately in front of me and I can easily and quickly acquire either target.

    Summary – when the bad guy’s gun drops, I can control the situation, hopefully, without anyone getting hurt. But, I’m in a good position to neutralize any threat quickly at that point. It’s possible that they’ll both flee as soon as I draw and yell. It’s also quite possible that none of the above will have gone through my head in the split second I have to react after Tshirt’s gun left his hand. But, all else being equal, that’s my ideal reaction.

  • JD December 24, 2016, 11:22 pm

    I think I would draw and train on T shirt man and tell him to not pick up his gun or I will have to shoot him in self defense. Keep eyes between both BGs and tell someone to call 9-1-1 right now. If either BG made a move towards exit I think I would let them go. So many problems even in shooting someone who commits a crime. If either made a threatening move towards you I think that would definitely be self defense. If they are trying to get away from you with your gun maybe a gray area.

  • Lee Elliott December 23, 2016, 11:31 am

    In the space of 2-3 seconds, T-shirt IS going for his gun because even if he would escape now unarmed with Flannel, his fingerprints are on it. As I moved forward to neutralize T-shirt’s threat to stupidly grab the gun, my Crimson Trace Green Laser is momentarily on Flannel’s eyes blinding him, (Go ahead and try it dork). Then the laser is on T-shirt and or the floor between he and his gun. T-shirt would see it. If he moves DOWN for the gun rather than fleeing upright, BLAM! If after seeing Green, he decides to hands up, hold Laser on him with his hands up or flees unarmed. Chances are Flannel flees out the door first as he doesn’t like that green colored stuff either. If he draws instead, BLAM!

  • Warren Peace December 23, 2016, 11:11 am

    If it was me, the smartest thing you can do is run – as my sensei taught, “Rule One: Run! You don’t have to prove anything to ANYONE!”; if that isn’t an option, using force is the LAST option. I would have gotten into a position with the food/ snack stands between me & line of sight by Flannel. I carry my weapon uncocked (un-racked – whatever), so fast drawing isn’t an option. I might ask if I could use the restroom, to prep, depending on the vibe. Or, bring my energy in, keeping a low profile; when the guys leave, I might draw, rack and citizen’s arrest. If it looks like they’re going to shoot, I’d have to make a move behind some obstacle, draw, rack & fire. The scenario described might allow for me to covertly rack my gun when they are moving, yelling, etc., but the smartest thing to do is nothing, unless they start being stupid – no life is worth a few bucks in the register.

    • Bob December 23, 2016, 3:37 pm

      Sorry, martial arts mindset could get you killed, lack of basic firearms tactics could, too. Its rarely a good idea to run, that’s an invitation to shoot you because you are not complying. Never carry a semi-auto without a round in the chamber, if you can’t safely handle it in that condition then you need more training. Your basic store snack rack is simply concealment, not cover, bullets from a panicked robber could easily go through it. The second asshole number one dropped that gun it’s go time, draw your “round in the chamber” gun and if he’s going for the gun shoot him till the threat is stopped, also watch the action of asshole number two in case his actions justify his being stopped, too. In your case though, you are woefully underprepared in your tactics and need to re-evaluate what happens in the real world, shit happens VERY fast, you need to be prepared to be fast (and accurate), too. Needing to rack a round is all the time that’s needed for you to get shot. And yes, I know because I’m a recently retired 25+ year veteran of a large urban police department and have been in many use of force situations, and have killed twice with my pistol in the line of duty. I’d suggest reading up on the mindset needed for these situations. Sure, if a gun, knife, or other item that can be used as a deadly weapon is not present, then if you’re young and fast give running a try, but typically in any fight being fresh and un-winded is a big plus, particularly if there’s multiple attackers. Good luck.

  • Doug December 23, 2016, 9:17 am

    Take this God given opportunity to immediately plug T-Shirt, then immediately cover flannel. Since he’s never presented a weapon in this scenario, he gets the option to haul ass. If he makes any move that could be construed as reaching for a weapon, drop his ass too.

  • David Miller December 23, 2016, 8:35 am

    Your life and the lives of everyone in that store are still in grave danger. If you don’t choose to use your firearm at this point, you shouldn’t be carrying.

  • Kevin December 16, 2016, 11:44 am

    Now’s your chance, maybe your last chance. Quickly move toward the gun on the floor while drawing yours. As soon as you begin to move and in your loudest voice, let T-shirt know that you will shoot him if he touches the gun. Flannel is scared and if he hasn’t gotten the door unlocked yet, he may have gone thru the glass, but a glance in his direction to confirm this is a good idea. T-shirt must bend over or get on the floor to regain control of the gun and at the same time, he will not likely lose his grip on the bag with the money. This gives you the best possible advantage but only if you move quickly. If you have done everything right and luck is with you, maybe you can kick the gun away in time, if not, you can not allow T-shirt to get control of the gun and as a last resort you must fire and continue to fire until the threat is gone. However, if T-shirt decides that getting to the door is more important than getting to the gun then you should hold your fire but maintain a weapon ready configuration until they are out of sight. Also, make sure you are able to give an accurate description of the suspects along with vehicle make, model a plate number if possible. Be a good witness.
    Having said all of this, action of any kind may be the wrong thing for you to do. The possible action mentioned above could possibly put you and the other customers in a much worse position. The action mentioned above should only be attempted if the actor has properly trained both mentally and physically and is committed to the possibility of taking a life. But then if you are not willing to train and commit, maybe you should reconsider carrying a weapon.
    Just my opinion and worth exactly what you paid for it.

  • James M December 16, 2016, 8:38 am

    Sorry Three cups in I was feeling it. And not the numbers in front of me. Long day ahead, and I tend to drift. Sorry about that guys.

  • James M December 16, 2016, 8:35 am

    ACDC “Highway to Hell” plays loud over speakers. Main character William “Wallace” Drider dives left instantly holding not one but two nighthawk custom .45’s. Yes .45’s. Each pull of the trigger causing silver clad titanium hollow points to perfectly hit dipshit thugs dead center, right between the brows. Wallace slides across the floor stopping in line with the locked door when it explodes. Thugs had a secret charge of black weapons grade … Oh wait… this isn’t Hollywood. I second Will Drider’s opinion.✋

  • Will Drider December 14, 2016, 5:01 pm

    Flannel is still a wild card, if you focus and draw on T Shirt; Flannel could do the same to you.
    T Shirt is currently unarmed but attempting to regain control of a loose gun, therefore he s still the major treat.
    The gun being dropped allows a moment of loss of control and chaos: at this point I would move to cover (light is better then none), draw, re-acquire the threats. Hopefully the BGs will make their clownish departure.
    If T Shirt saw you draw and takes a hostage shield telling you to drop your gun, tell him this ain’t the movies, you value you life above the hostages and now would be a good time to leave before it gets real complicated. Don’t forget about Flannel!

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