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.
“He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.” — Proverbs 26:17
In my analysis of The Armed Citizen column, two things that I noticed have broader implications than ‘skills,’ although there are both skills and tactics involved in their execution. To me, they are strategic considerations about what to do vis-à-vis how to do it. I’m not hung up on the strategic/tactical terminology, so call it whatever suits you.
Intervene in another’s situation 15%
Hold at gunpoint until police arrive 12%
As many of my friends know, I’m not a fan of intervention in others’ affairs. I won’t say I would never do it, but I would need a really good reason. Even some police agencies, such as the LAPD, discourage officers from taking ‘enforcement action’ when they are off-duty.
Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners’ Findings
Although it is preferred that an off-duty officer refrain from taking enforcement action and instead act as a good witness, the rapidly unfolding circumstances warranted immediate intervention to preserve life.
Therefore, it was reasonable for Officer A to take immediate action to safeguard the lives of the public.
Even when the LAPD BOPC finds an officer’s “use of force to be in policy, requiring no action” in such a situation, it sometimes recommends additional training that the officer must undergo to remedy tactical deficiencies noted.
Board of Police Commissioners’ Findings
The BOPC found that … Officer A (7 years, 8 months service) would benefit from additional tactical training at the Training Division (formal training) level.
In one incident that took place in the Atlanta area 3 years ago, the person who intervened was shot in the back and killed by a seeded backup man in the liquor store. There were a whole series of tactical and marksmanship issues and errors associated with that tragic incident.
In addition to the tactical considerations, Andrew Branca’s excellent book The Law of Self Defense discusses a number of legal considerations about intervention. For example, if a weapons carrier intervenes of behalf of someone who is not innocent in the encounter, then neither is the one who intervenes.
Intervention opens a big can of worms and I’ve never been much interested in fishing. Many years ago, Evan Marshall, a very savvy and experienced Detroit street cop, espoused a philosophy of being a good witness until “they start searching people, making people get down on the floor, or herding people into a back room.” At that point, he felt gunfire was in order. I haven’t come across anything I find more apropos, so that’s the personal strategy I have in mind.
The risk/reward aspect of ‘Hold at gunpoint until police arrive’ is a separate and involved topic that we’ll discuss in the future.
“What is the best use of my time right now?” —How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein
As many people know, I like to read The Armed Citizen column of the NRA Journals in detail each month. Years ago, I did a Five Year Analysis of The Armed Citizen to give me an idea of what actual incidents really looked like. Revisiting that concept appealed to me, so I did a short version for the first six months of 2014.
What I was looking for this time was the skills and techniques that were used by The Armed Citizens to solve their problems. Each incident was looked at from the perspective of skills that could or might be taught in an entry level to intermediate level firearms training class. Here’s what the list and usage rates ended up looking like from 10% up and 0%:
- Retrieve from Storage (handgun) 32%
- Move safely from place to place at ready 22%
- Draw to shoot 20%
- Challenge from ready 15%
- Intervene in another’s situation 15%
- Draw to challenge 12%
- Engage from ready (handgun) 12%
- Hold at gunpoint until police arrive 12%
- Retrieve from Storage (unknown) 10%
- Shoot with non-threats downrange 10%
- Retrieve from Storage (rifle) 0%
- Reload 0%
How often do we, as firearms trainers, ask our students to bring their home storage containers to class with them? Probably not 32 percent of the time. Or do we at least provide some kind of drawer for them to get their roscoe out of to show they can do it safely? I know a lot of people keep their chamber, or even the gun, empty when it’s off their person, so do we make them demonstrate loading it safely? Something I really like about the NRA Defensive Pistol I Marksmanship Qualification Program is that it includes those type of skills and incorporates both a time and accuracy standard for performing them.
How about moving safely from place to place with a loaded gun in hand, especially with innocents around? This is one of the biggest challenges that new IDPA and USPSA shooters encounter. Almost inevitably, a new shooter will run around with finger on trigger and then is taken to task about it by the match staff. While they’re not training, those shooting sports are providing a lot more realistic practice on a critical skill than most training classes are. Does that mean that the shooting sports are more relevant, at least in that aspect, than training classes are?
Challenging criminals is another skill I see rarely. John Farnam emphasizes it in his classes but I don’t see verbalization prior to using deadly force in many other classes. I personally think the concept “the gun isn’t coming out until I decide to shoot” is one of the most ill-considered ideas in the firearms community. But I still hear it quite a bit. If we can convince a criminal that the victimization has gone South and turned into a conflict, the chances are quite good they will break off. If they break off the attack without us firing a shot, I consider that a big WIN. Verbalization is another skill that is included in the NRA MQP. But a number of my students have found it hard to do without considerable coaching.
We’ll discuss the other skills in the future, but I want to draw attention to the percentage of reloads involved in these incidents, to wit: ZERO. As I mentioned in a Personal Defense Network interview, I’ve completely de-emphasized reloading in my classes for Armed Citizens. It’s a useful exercise for practicing good gunhandling but as a tactical skill, I just don’t consider it important anymore. Some folks spend a lot of time on thinking about how much spare ammunition to carry, how to carry it, and how to reload quickly. I think that time and effort would be better spent on practicing to make a good first shot, which is a skill many people need a lot of practice on.
Last Sunday, I was interviewed about Incident Analysis on Ballistic Radio. A podcast of the broadcast is available here. It’s about 45 minutes long.
A broad outline of the discussion was:
- What is it?
- Why do it?
- Gathering information.
- What are the sources? There is a lot of open source information available now that simply wasn’t available just a few years ago.
- Framework for thinking about it.
- Vetting the information.
- Applying the conclusions to one’s own situation.
It was an interesting discussion that I really enjoyed.