When should we use our guns? We hear that question asked in every concealed carry class. That doesn’t mean we’re eager to shoot: if anything it indicates the opposite that we want to know how long we can wait. There is more to this than meets the eye at first glance. Remember that most of the times when we use our firearm in armed defense we don’t press the trigger. We can cost lives if we use our firearms too early and if we present it too late. Are we so reluctant to present our firearm that we are waiting until we have no option but to shoot our attacker? Let’s look at a recent story of armed defense to see what happened and what might have happened differently.
This story took place in Massachusetts during the fall of 2022. Our gun owner is a single mom in her 30s. Her jobs bring her into regular contact with people who have problems with addiction and alcoholism. She’d seen violence in her area and wished that she had been armed. That motivated her to get her Massachusetts license to carry. She got her license in 2017 and has been routinely carrying concealed since then.
On this day, our gun owner brought two older relatives to see part of their family she had not seen in decades. There were family disagreements that did not involve her. She was walking toward her car with her passengers to leave at about 10 in the morning. A 23-year old male lived at the home they were visiting. He came outside the home carrying a large butcher knife and he shouted threats at our concealed carrier. The attacker pointed the knife at her and walked across the yard toward her.
Our defender recognized that the knife was a lethal physical threat to her and her passengers. She recognized her attacker’s verbal threats as a sign of intent. Her attacker was both larger and stronger than she was. He could advance forward towards her faster than she could move backward to escape. She recognized that she did not have the time and distance required to get her and her passengers into her car and drive away before the attacker could reach them. Our defender reached into her purse and presented her firearm to a low compressed ready position. She shouted for her attacker to stop.
The attacker stopped his advance. He retreated back toward the house. Our defender did not point her firearm at the attacker or at any other bystanders. She and her passengers retreated to a safe distance where she reholstered her firearm.
Our defender remained at the scene. She did not call the police because her phone was locked in her car parked on the street. Other people present called the police. Our defender spoke to the police officers when they arrived. She presented her identification along with her license to carry. She stated that she would testify as a witness about what happened but did not ask that her attacker be charged. She stated that her attacker appeared intoxicated or high at 10 in the morning, the time of the attack.
Our defender was not charged for violating the law. She and her passengers left the scene.
The attacker and his relatives filed a Civil Protective Order against our defender. They claimed that the defender needlessly brandished a firearm. Our defender was not notified of that filing or of the meeting with the judge where the CPO was issued. When informed by her local police that a CPO had been issued against her, she arranged with her local police to turn in her firearms, her ammunition, her Massachusetts License to Carry, and her Rhode Island Permit to Carry. Our defender also contacted Second Call Defense for legal representation.
Second Call Defense contacted their local attorney familiar with armed defense cases. The lawyer took testimony from the defender and examined the police reports of the incident. The lawyer then arranged a court date with the presiding judge to challenge the Civil Protective Order.
Relevant facts included that the defender faced an immediate lethal and unavoidable threat of death to herself or other innocent parties. She used the least amount of force necessary to stop the threat. Our defender did not use lethal force when the presentation of the firearm was sufficient to stop the attacker. Our defender was able to stop the attacker in time because she quickly recognized the attack and presented her firearm. She was not charged with a crime while her attacker was charged with aggravated assault.
The judge weighed the evidence and rescinded the Civil Order of Protection. Our defender informed her local police of that new court order and arranged to recover her property and her documents.
There is a lot we can learn from our defender’s actions. It is easy to see where she might have saved the lives of her passengers and herself. What is less obvious is that her timely actions saved the life of her attacker. Let’s look at that step by step.
Our defender’s accusers claimed that she acted too soon. They claimed that she presented her firearm before the attacker was a threat. They claimed that presenting her firearm put the attacker and other innocent people at risk. The accusers made statements on social media and by phone. Our defender had to change her phone number to avoid them.
We’d like our decisions to be a black or white choice, but this is clearly a matter of judgment. There is a time when we face a lethal threat but we still have sufficient time and distance that we do not yet have to press the trigger. We are allowed to present and use our firearms when that is the safest thing to do. If our attacker is hundreds of feet away then we have so much time that we might successfully retreat to safety. In contrast, if our attacker was moving towards us and only ten yards away, then the attacker would not have time to recognize our defense and retreat. As a defender, we waited so long that we would have to shoot them to stop the threat.
Let me repeat that point because there is so much bad “gun shop” wisdom being handed about. We’ve all heard the statement that we should never present our firearm unless we intend to use it. That statement needs context. Presenting our firearm is using it. We do have to face a lethal threat before we present our firearm. We do not have to wait until we have no other option but to immediately press the trigger.
Because our defender recognized the lethal situation in time, she gave her attacker time to react. He stopped his advance and she was then able to retreat. Had she waited another few seconds before presenting her firearms, she may have been forced to shoot her attacker. Her early actions saved her attacker’s life.
She presented her firearm when it was the safest thing to do. Fortunately for all involved, that was before she had to shoot. The judge recognized that fact and rescinded the CPO that was issued against her.
There are other lessons we can learn with the benefit of hindsight. These recommendations are considered best practice but may not apply in every situation:
- Carrying concealed takes more time to present a firearm but it also gives us options about revealing that we are armed.
- We want to call 911 and ask for the police even if we don’t have to shoot. Saying ‘Stop! I have a gun.’ is considered using our gun in this sense.
- When officers arrive, we want to state that we were at risk and used our firearm because of the threat posed by the attacker. Describe any evidence that supports your claim of self defense. (I saw him run at me with a knife. They saw him with his knife. He was coming toward me and was about here when I presented my gun.)
- We want to ask that our attacker be charged and that we are willing to give testimony against our attacker in court.
- Offer to give a complete report to the police and to answer all their questions, but first you want to contact your lawyer for help in filling out that report.
- Contact legal representation any time we’ve had to touch our firearm or mention that we are armed in order to stop a threat.
- We are not used to the legal process and our lawyer helps us understand what to expect. In this case, the defender’s firearms were returned in about two weeks after she contacted Second Call Defense.
- After the attack, if there is any sign of contact from the attacker, his family, or his friends such as phone calls or texts, then ask for a Civil Protective Order to stop the accusations and threats.
- Be careful about using any drugs or alcohol while carrying a firearm. The attacker was intoxicated at the time of the attack and the defender was sober.
- The attacker had a criminal record and a history of intoxication. That adds credibility to our claim of justifiable defense and our request for a Protective Order. The attacker was repeating violent behavior that he’d shown before and that we are afraid he will show in the future.
- Our defender continues to carry concealed today. She continues to study and train.
- She teaches her children about firearms safety since she knows that there are unsecured firearms in her neighborhood.
There is a final lesson that most of us can use. Even though our defender saw people who make poor judgements as part of her job, there was part of her that couldn’t believe the attack was really happening to her. Even if I didn’t have to shoot someone, I’d want to talk to a counselor to sort through all the emotions of facing a lethal threat.