“If I draw my gun…”

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Hang around people that carry concealed and you’ll hear this a lot. “If I draw my gun someone is getting shot.” There are a lot of variations on this theme but they all boil down to the same thing. This is not only a dangerous sentiment to express, it’s a dangerous mindset to have. Yes, you do need to be mentally prepared to shoot if you draw a gun on another person. But- and this doesn’t get said enough- you need to be prepared to not shoot as well.

Imagine you have had to shoot in self-defense and an adversarial prosecutor has taken the matter to trial. Suddenly there on the witness stand are four people you know, all testifying that you said this or some variation of it. This calls into question your intent- did you shoot because you needed to or because you decided that you would in advance?

Civilian self defense is a very different thing than law-enforcement. It’s not your job to control a situation; your role is responsive. A police officer may draw his gun as a tool to help control a situation, to dissuade a subject from violence or as a tool to help force compliance. It can be done as a response to a perceived threat; it can allow the officer time to evaluate the validity of the threat while being ready for a worst-case scenario. It can be drawn as a matter of prudence before entering a potentially dangerous situation like a building search.

An armed citizen should probably not do some or most of those things most of the time. If you need to search a building because you suspect there might be an intruder don’t. Call the police- it’s their job. There might be a burglar in your home? Don’t hunt them down. Call the police- it’s their job. You firearm is for self-defense in a worst case situation; it does not make you a police officer or entitle you to do their job.

There are specific things that you, as an armed civilian should not do, and the biggest mistake I see reported is drawing a firearm to control a situation or compel compliance. A firearm is not a magic wand. You feel a situation is getting out of hand, draw your weapon preemptively and the person refuses to comply- now what? You can’t just shoot them. Now you look like an idiot and more importantly you’ve damaged your credibility, which decreases your effectiveness at diffusing the situation. You’ve also opened the door to being charged with Brandishing a Weapon.

On the other hand a situation could arise where you draw your weapon under completely justified circumstances and don’t need to shoot. I’ve had this happen both as an off-duty law-enforcement officer and as a civilian. In both cases I could have gotten away with shooting in a legal sense, and in both cases it proved unnecessary. I’m just as glad I didn’t; if I’d had the mindset ‘If I draw I shoot’ things would have turned out much worse for everyone involved.

The standard for using your weapon- and I keep saying this because it is important- is that there is immediate danger of death or grave bodily harm to yourself on another innocent. In most situations that you, as a civilian, will encounter you should not draw your weapon until this circumstance exists. In other words when it appears that you will be justified in shooting someone. This doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you can do at that point, however.

In a hyperstress situation you will do as you train, and mental preparation is an important part of that training. If you are constantly telling yourself that if the gun comes out you will shoot you will probably shoot when the gun comes out. In many, even most, civilian self-defense situations this is not inappropriate. You are probably being confronted by someone with the expressed or implied intent and capability to seriously harm or kill you at near-contact distance. You don’t have time to do anything but draw and fire. But if you do have time to evaluate the situation and scale your response appropriately it could save you a lot of trouble.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 17 July 17

 

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