Lessons for the Armed Citizen from the Dorner Incidents

A defensive gun use (DGU) by an Armed Citizen is a balance of doing the right things, doing things right, and not doing the wrong things.

Christopher Dorner was a former LAPD Officer who went crazy in February 2013, murdered several people, and eventually committed suicide when surrounded by the authorities. During the manhunt for Dorner, two mistaken identity shootings by police occurred in the Los Angeles area. One shooting, by Torrance Police Officers, occurred near a checkpoint and the other in the vicinity of a LAPD Captain’s home. The home was being protected by a detail of LAPD Officers because the Captain may have been a specific target of Dorner’s.

A recent settlement for the Torrance Police shooting has revived commentary about the ‘trigger happy police,’ etc. I will be the first to admit I wouldn’t want to be downrange during such an episode but there are also lessons to be learned from the mistaken identity shootings. And those lessons don’t just apply to the law enforcement community.

First of all, note that both shootings occurred during periods of limited visibility, i.e., early morning. Humans have a natural apprehension of the dark. Couple this natural fear with the possibility of dealing with a dangerous criminal and our emotional trigger mechanisms can get stretched pretty tight. In the case of the LAPD shooting, the Officers had been on station for several hours already. They had also been recently informed that Dorner had engaged two police officers nearby and murdered one of them.

How does this apply to the Armed Citizen? Think about how you might feel if you hear a crash in your home in the middle of the night. Likely, you will have been awakened from sleep, you will not know what the situation is, and very probably your spouse will be providing you with a sense of urgency to determine and fix the problem. If you are like most people, your interior lights are not on, so you are operating in conditions of limited visibility. Now throw in the possibility of a heightened sense of danger, for instance, having a daughter who has recently obtained a Protection Order staying with you for safety reasons. The possibility is high that you will not have the same sense of ease and self-control you do when you go to the indoor range and casually prepare to practice shooting some rounds at a bullseye target.

Second, the Police do not train very much to work in groups larger than two. This point was made very succinctly by my Battalion Commander when we were practicing riot control in the National Guard. Watch any multi-officer takedown of a criminal and it’s obvious they do not operate with a sense of military coordination. Police Officers spent almost all of their time working independently, not as part of a team. Only SWAT units generally are trained to work in groups larger than two.

What does the lack of teamwork have to do with the Armed Citizen? Just as the Police don’t spend much time practicing teamwork with each other; neither do Armed Citizens tend to spend much time practicing teamwork with their families and friends. The probability that your spouse and/or children are not going to do what you want them to or what you tell them to do is high. So don’t be surprised if an incident involving more than one potential victim turns out to be a complicated problem to solve.

Third, communications among the Officers left something to be desired. In the case of the Torrance Police shooting, the victim had been identified as a non-threat just a few seconds before. Unfortunately, this had evidently not been communicated to Officers right down the street. When I conduct training for couples, one of the main concerns they express is their ability to communicate during a criminal encounter. The couples I work with tend to already be ‘switched on’ so this is an area that deserves considerable emphasis in our personal practice.

All this is not to defend or justify the mistaken identity shootings. The LAPD Board of Police Commissioners found the LAPD Officers’ actions ‘out of policy’ and rightly so. Rather, it is to point out that a defensive gun use (DGU) by an Armed Citizen, just as by a Law Enforcement Officer, is a balance of doing the right things, doing things right, and not doing the wrong things.

When we take a gun into our hands for defensive purposes, we have a goal in mind, that being to avoid death or serious bodily injury. At the same time, there’s a good possibility we are threading our way through a series of physical and emotional obstacles while trying to reach that goal. Just as soldiers whose objective is on the far side of a minefield must work their way through the minefield carefully, we, as Armed Citizens, must be cautious of our paths and moves, as well.


The full report of the Los Angeles Police Department Board Of Police Commissioners is available here.

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