You’re glad to be standing in line. The local fast-food chicken restaurant now lets customers order at the counter so you don’t have to slowly work your way through the line at the drive-through window. You’re waiting for your order just before 9 at night. Two men come inside and push to the front of the line. They are wearing masks. They also have guns in their hands. They wave their guns at the kids behind the counter and the customers in the store.
You own a handgun. You’re carrying concealed tonight. You wait until you have a clear shot and then shoot the two attackers. Now the attackers run from the store. You stay at the scene and shout for everyone to call 911. You holster your gun and give a statement when the police arrive.
Police find your attackers nearby. Both are taken to the local hospital for treatment. One of them died and the other one is expected to recover. You are released and not charged with a crime.
Police identify the dead attacker as the robber who held up another small restaurant at gunpoint the day before. Police don’t mention his criminal record, but the news article features his old mugshot. The surviving attacker is held on outstanding warrants.
Our defender did several things to save his life and the life of others in the restaurant that night. To start, he owned a firearm that he could carry on his body. He was armed and carrying concealed. He carried his firearm in a condition so he could use it immediately when he needed it. The news article does not mention if he had his concealed carry permit, but a permit is no longer required to carry concealed after Texas adopted constitutional carry last month.
That night, the defender recognized a lethal threat. He waited until the robbers’ guns weren’t pointed at him before he presented his firearm. He shot the attackers until the threat stopped. He also stopped shooting when the threat ended.
The legal justification for using legal force includes that innocent people were facing a lethal threat that was both immediate and unavoidable. Both robbers were armed, so that is the immediate lethal threat. Neither the store clerks nor the other customers waiting in line provoked the threat, so the victims were innocent. The victims were held at gunpoint and could not walk away to avoid the threat.
Lethal force may be legally justified, but should we defend ourselves if we were standing in line that night? Perhaps the robbers would have taken the money from the till and left. Perhaps they would use the robbery as an opportunity to shoot one of the clerks or customers as they settle an old score. We’ve also seen criminals rob the other customers who are standing in line. In that case, the robbers would disarm us and take our gun. That is both a moral problem and it poses an increased threat to our immediate safety.
It is far more dangerous to wait until the robbers have their guns pointed at us to find out they intend to also rob us. We have good reasons to act early, but not too early.
Let me pose another situation to consider. Many of the store employees in fast-food jobs are young men and women. They are often too young to obtain their carry permits and are effectively disarmed at work. What will you think of yourself if you don’t defend them? We’ll probably want mental health counseling if we defend ourself with a firearm. We’ll certainly need counseling if we avoid the robbery by stepping outside while one of the kids inside is shot. I wish I had easy answers that work all the time.
We’re not under a legal obligation to protect other people. Whatever we do in the moment, we will make better decisions if we consider our choices now rather than waiting until the middle of a violent crime when we can’t think. To complicate matters, the legal burden for armed defense of a third person differs from state to state. Learn how the local laws apply where your carry concealed.
Recognizing the threat doesn’t mean we have to be the hero. Consider what you’d do if your friend, your spouse, or your child was there with you. Can you grab them and run, or is it safer to have a gunfight while you’re standing next to people you care about? Do they know to drop to the floor when the shooting starts? Please think about that now because you won’t have time when the guys with guns come through the door.
If we choose to engage the robbers, then we want to avoid being shot. We might use the crowd to our advantage. We can cut our draw time in half if we start with our hand on our firearm. We can use the person in front of us to hide our movements from the robbers. We know that our actions will be faster than someone else’s reactions, but we don’t want to present our firearm when the robbers are looking at us and have their gun pointed at us. Waiting for the right moment has been called “waiting your turn” and “tactical patience”. We want to recognize the right moment to start our defense.
Consider which attacker is the greatest threat. If there are two robbers, then that probably means the attacker holding a gun who is closest to us. Both of the attackers in this story were armed so there is a choice for us to make.
We want to move toward cover and a position of advantage as we draw. We need to ensure that there are no innocent people in the way. Look for any bystanders between us and the armed robbers as well as people standing behind the robbers. Ideally, we can move so bystanders are not in the line of fire and the robbers are standing one in front of the other. That means only one of the attackers can shoot us at a time because they are in their own way. That is ideal, but we may have to settle for less.
One thought is to shoot each attacker until they are not a threat. That means we might get shot by the second attacker while we are busy shooting the first one. Consider that it is harder for the robber to shoot us if he is wounded. That argues for shooting each armed robber quickly. Some instructors say shoot the first attacker one time and then stop the second threat before you return to the first attacker. I was taught to deliver a controlled pair and then move on. There are good arguments for each approach.
As I pointed out earlier, part of the legal and moral justification for using lethal force is that the robbers pose an immediate lethal threat. That justification stops when we recognize that the attackers are no longer a threat. That is when we are expected to stop shooting. It isn’t our job to chase the bad guys across the parking lot.
There is more work to do after the attackers run away. Ask everyone inside the store if they are injured. Ask them to check each other, and ask someone to look you over as well. These encounters are so stressful that you might not know you’ve been hurt.
Ask everyone to call 911. Ask the store employees to lock the doors and to move out of the front of the store. Holster your firearm, move to safety, ask again if anyone is hurt, and then call 911 yourself. Give the dispatcher your address and describe what you look like. We want someone on the phone with 911 so the store employees can open the door for the police when they arrive.
When they arrive, do what the police tell you. You might be handcuffed. If the law of self-defense is new to you then say nothing but your name and that you want a lawyer. If you’ve taken a class and studied the law of self-defense then say little until you talk to your lawyer. Don’t withhold information which can be of immediate assistance to the police like the fact that the attacker’s gun slid under the corner table. Say little.
If you have studied self-defense and the law, then consider telling the officers something like this:
I called you. Several people came into the store with guns and threatened us tonight. I defended myself and have my carry permit. I called you as soon as I could. I’ll press charges and be a witness against them if that helps. I’ll cooperate and answer all your questions once I’ve spoken to my lawyer.
You’ll probably be upset after you were threatened at gunpoint. I would be too, but the more we think about it ahead of time the better we’ll be, both in how we perform in the moment and in how we recover emotionally. Self-defense is hard. Some pre-paid legal plans can recommend a counsellor for you.
Rob Morse highlights the latest self-defense and other shootings of the week. See what went wrong, what went right, and what we can learn from real-life self-defense with a gun. Even the most justified self-defense shooting can go wrong, especially after the shot. Get the education, the training, and the liability coverage you and your family deserve, join USCCA.
About Rob Morse
Rob writes about gun rights at Ammoland, at Clash Daily, at Second Call Defense, and on his SlowFacts blog. He hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast and co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast. Rob was an NRA pistol instructor and combat handgun competitor.