Like most people who carry concealed, I do my best to be prepared when and if I ever have need to defend myself, my family, or someone else. As such, I like to think I’m doing the right things to be prepared should that situation ever arise:
- I try to train when I can in order to keep my handgun skills proficient.
- I try to stay abreast of any changes in state laws regarding self defense and/or CCW.
- I work to maintain a situational alertness so I am ready to respond if needed.
Honestly, I suspect that the majority of CCW carriers are similar to a point.
However, have you given any thought to what happens after a lethal force incident? Personally, I don’t feel that I, or anyone on staff here at Gunner’s Alley is really qualified to give advice on this topic. As such, I’m obliged to provide the following disclaimer before we proceed any further: The staff at Gunner’s Alley is not qualified to offer or provide legal advice and the concepts discussed next are not to be construed as any form of legal advice or guidance. Therefore, my goal in this article to not to provide advice or counsel, but is to get you thinking about this topic so you can be a little better prepared.
We’ve had the chance to speak to lots of customers in the store over the last 15 years that we’ve been in business, and I am always surprised by some of the responses that we get when we pose the question: “What would you do right after a lethal force situation?” Given some of the responses and the sometimes awkwardness that ensues after the question has been asked, it’s clearly an unpopular and uncomfortable topic, but, unfortunately, in this day and age, it’s one you have to at least consider. While I’m sure there are readers out there who have already given some thought to what comes after, but I’m betting a great many people really haven’t thought it through much past dialing 911. If you don’t, you may be woefully unprepared for what comes next. I’ll stop short of referring to it as a plan of action, as I certainly don’t want to associate a “plan” of any type with a lethal force situation so let me be clear: this isn’t a plan or outline. It’s simply designed to get readers to initiate an internal dialogue about this particular unpleasant and controversial topic.
Not to leave you hanging, at the end of the article, I’m going to link to resources that are far better qualified to offer very specific advice on this topic.
So here’s the scenario, you’ve just been involved in a lethal force incident at a convenience store. In that situation, you were forced to shoot a subject attacking you with a knife. For the purposes of this discussion, here are some questions to actions to think about:
#1 – Calling 911 – Thoughts
It goes without saying that 911 needs to be called as quickly since you will need law enforcement and EMS to respond as quickly as possible. Should you be the one to call or do you ask someone else to do it for you? It could be a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, calling yourself gives you the opportunity (if you will) to be the caller, and provide a very basic framework for the events that occurred. At the same time, the call is recorded so any and everything you say during that call will be reviewed. On the other hand, letting someone else call for you could make sense given the traumatic experience that you just experienced, but what if that person frames the call in a light that is unfavorable to you? Of course, the situation may be such that you are unable to make the call yourself, and will have to rely on someone else to make the call anyway.
#2 – Do you administer first aid?
The situation may be such that you simply are not in a position to administer first aid, but if you are able, should you? I think the answer really depends on a number of factors including your own moral compass, your level of training and experience, and the first aid equipment on hand. Given the dangers of bloodborn pathogens, is it even something you want to risk? However, playing devil’s advocate, providing first aid certainly offers a more humanitarian perception of you in the eyes of the person you were forced to shoot, witnesses of the incident, bystanders, and a jury, should it come to that.
#3 – What do you do with your weapon as emergency service personnel are responding to the scene?
I know this almost sounds like a common sense type question, but I only bring this up as there were a few shooting scenes that I responded to during my law enforcement days where the subject still had the gun either in hand or displayed openly when I arrived. As you can imagine, this typically results in guns being pointed at you with a rapid introduction to the ground. Now the situation may be such that you can’t re-holster your weapon immediately but, it may complicate things if you don’t before law enforcement arrives.
#4 – Do you need first aid?
Even if you didn’t suffer an injury, you have most likely (unless you happen to be a combat veteran) just gone though one of the most stressful and potentially traumatic situations of your life. In addition to the hearing damage you most likely sustained, you might need to be seen and evaluated by the emergency responders at the scene. During my LEO days, I responded to a few shootings (a mix of what was later determined to be self defense and some homicides). I vividly recall one where two intoxicated subjects had gotten into an argument that escalated into a fist fight. One of the subjects who was losing the fight, pulled a knife, causing the other to pull a pistol, shooting the attacker with the knife. As the 2nd officer on the scene, I secured the pistol and opened a conversation with the subject who did the shooting. As I was asking if he was OK, I noticed some blood on his side and asked if he had been stabbed or was hurt. He said no, he was fine and didn’t need to be seen the EMS on scene. However, when I asked him to raise his shirt so I could see, he had a very bad stab wound to his side. In all the excitement and adrenaline (and probably the alcohol as well), he literally had no idea he had been stabbed and was bleeding pretty good.
#5 – Having your weapon seized
Depending on how #3 went, you have either been disarmed or have surrendered your weapon at this point. Are you prepared to the fact that it’s going to be seized for evidence? Many people equate that to a confirmation of sorts that they’ve done something wrong, and that simply isn’t the case. It’s standard LEO procedure so be prepared for it to happen. While it’s not pleasant, hopefully, it will be done in a professional manner and you’ll hopefully get an evidence receipt.
#5 – Initial statement to LEO
Inevitably, at some point after the scene is secured, a law enforcement officer is going to ask you to provide details as to what happened. This is commonly referred to as an initial statement. Do you need to speak with a lawyer before making that statement? Do you need a lawyer present at the scene with you? If you do opt to speak with a lawyer, do you have one on retainer or one that you can call immediately? All these are very good questions that are probably worth answering individually BEFORE you ever really strap on the gun, so to speak. One the one hand, it could be argued that if you were in danger and you adhered to the specific rules of deadly force in your state, you have done nothing wrong and, therefore, don’t need a lawyer. You may also feel that getting a lawyer offers the appearances that you did something wrong and sends the wrong message. At the same time, others would argue that they wouldn’t even speak to the police without having a lawyer present. You’ll have to decide where you stand on the issue at some point since it’s an important part of the process.
#6 – Detailed statement at the LEO facility
Most likely, after your initial statement at the scene, you will be asked to voluntary come to the closest law enforcement facility to provide a more detailed statement of events. Most likely, this interview will be conducted by a detective or plainclothes officer. The interview will most likely take place in an “interview” room of sorts, and will assuredly be video and audio taped. You may also be asked to provide a written statement of the events that occurred. For the most part, the same questions posed in #5 above will apply here as well:
Do you need or should you have an attorney present?
Are you obligated to provide this secondary interview and/or a written statement?
#7 – Ruling on incident
At some point, the investigating law enforcement agency will complete the investigation and present those findings to the District Attorney (or state prosecutor’s office for the jurisdiction where the incident took place). They will review the facts and one of the following actions will be taken: (1) the incident will be determined to be valid self defense, or (2) it will be referred to a grand jury (or a similar fact finding body) for review. The grand jury will then make a determination of charges are warranted or not.
#8 – Legal ramifications – Criminal and Civil
Criminal charges – While this doesn’t appear to be common in valid self defense incidents, there is always the chance of criminal charges, even if they end up being a lesser charge of the actual shooting itself. Not to be taken as advice, but more of a direct observation: criminal charges will require representation by an attorney.
Civil proceedings – Hopefully, the situation was ruled as self defense, but even with that ruling and no criminal charges filed, you may still face civil litigation from the person or persons you were forced to shoot, their families, and even 3rd party groups who had no direct involvement in the incident.
Obviously, nothing discussed above paints a very pretty picture but it’s a hard reality of how these events can unfold.
Now for some qualified help and advice on this topic. Probably the most recognized expert in the use of lethal force field is Massad Ayoob. As a matter of fact, his course on deadly force principals and the use of deadly force for lawyers called “The Management of the Lethal Force/Deadly Weapons Case” is considered by many in the legal profession to be the handbook on lethal and deadly force management and mitigation. During this stint as the Director of the Lethal Force Institue (LFI) from 1981 to 2009, the LFI course on deadly force was really the best training of this kind being offered. Although he is no longer affiliated with LFI, portions of the the basic LFI curriculum are being still being taught at this new company, the Mas Ayood Group (http://massadayoobgroup.com) I haven’t had the chance to attend one of his classes, but I have met a few LFI students of his over the years, and they had nothing but rave reviews. If attending a class isn’t possible or as an alternative, the following books he authored are a fantastic resource in this topic:
“In The Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection” – Although this book was written in 1980, the principals and ideas discussed then are just as valid today.
“Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self Defense” – Written in 2014, this book offers a fairly up to date approach to current self defense principals as well as insights and advise for both preparing and making it through a deadly force encounter.
Another excellent source of information is Andrew Branca’s “The Law of Self Defense” (http://lawofselfdefense.com/book/)
Hopefully, this is a path you never have to go down, but, if you do, it only makes sense to at least give some thought to what happens if you do.