Oct 162012

Friend or foe? You need to identify the shadowy figure before shooting.

Something that happens all too often is a justifiable/lawful shooting/killing, but of an innocent person.  Now you might be wondering, how can anyone ever lawfully shoot and kill an innocent person?  Let’s hope you never get to find out in person.

The most common scenario relates to a person at home hearing an intruder, going to investigate, and then shooting the intruder.  But, as subsequently found out, after the shooting, the intruder was someone with a bona fide and/or innocent reason for being in the house.

Typical examples include family members who came home unexpectedly, or sometimes neighbors in the wrong home, or friends of family members (particularly a teenage daughter’s boyfriend, it seems!) who were not expected to be in the house.

Here’s the most recent example of someone being shot due to mis-identification.

What can you do to prevent such a tragedy occurring in your home?

Firstly, you should not go looking if you hear an intruder in your house.  If you are sure there is an intruder, call the police.  If you are not sure, listen very carefully and intently, maybe turn security lights on and off, maybe even call out.  But don’t leave your (hopefully safe and optimized for security) bedroom.  If you have no contact with the intruder, there’s no way you’ll accidentally shoot them, right?

Unfortunately, there are occasions when you’ll need to leave the safety of your bedroom.  Maybe you have other people in other bedrooms (which raises a warning flag – the noise you hear could be them) who you need to protect.  Or maybe, as happened in the linked case above, your power goes off and you need to go to the fusebox.

We can certainly understand you being on a ‘hair trigger’ and, upon confronting an unknown person, in your house in a situation where they have not been invited by you and you’re not expecting them, you’re probably going to be quick – and understandably so – to assume they are not there as a precursor to throwing you a happy making surprise party.

However, you know what they say about assuming, don’t you.  You must avoid, if at all possible, shooting at dark shadowy figures prior to either identifying and or challenging them.  Even if you know there is an intruder in your home who intends you grave harm, maybe someone else is also in the house, present to help you against the intruder.  Always identify your target.

You mightn’t want to give up the element of surprise by calling out to people that you’re coming to get them, but you could at least say ‘Who’s there?’ in a loud voice that carries through the house, even from the safety of your bedroom.  If you can hear their stealthy movements, they can surely hear you calling out to them.  A challenge from your bedroom doesn’t compromise you so much if you then have to leave the bedroom, although clearly the people in the house now know you are awake and alert.

If you are out there, moving around, then if/when you encounter a stranger, you should shine a flashlight on their face to identify them.

It is common these days for people to want to buy the most powerful flashlight out there, and these days with the latest in LED technology, there are some amazingly powerful flashlights out there, with hundreds if not thousands of lumens of light output, tightly focused in a small circle.  This power is great if you are using your light as a weapon, or if you’re trying to see who is lurking behind the trash cans on the far side of your house, but is not so great if you are wanting to use it to identify people in a dark house at short-range.  Your own eyesight will be dazzled by a sudden bright light and you may not recognize the person you’re lighting up.

You should use a moderate power flashlight for around-the-house work; bright enough to illuminate anything in the shadows at typical at-home distances, but not so bright as to dazzle you from the light reflected off the intruder’s face.

We like the Harries technique for holding a flashlight together with a pistol.  It gives you a convenient way to control the flashlight and keeps it pointing in the same direction as your pistol.  Note that this must to be done with great care.  Your pistol will now be sweeping the room and pointing at unidentified targets, violating one of the four firearm safety rules in the process.  It is even more important you follow all four of these rules in a time of stress and pending action than when you’re calm and relaxed on the range.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking they are optional procedures that don’t apply in real-world emergencies.  They apply even more strongly when you’re off the range and in a ‘for real’ situation.

In particular, be sure to keep your finger off the trigger and completely outside the trigger housing, until you’ve identified your target and made a conscious decision to shoot.  That way, if you are startled, and have an involuntary tightening of your trigger finger, it won’t result in you firing a shot, whether you intend to or not.

To summarize – avoid confrontations with unknown people in your home (and anywhere/everywhere else).  If you are forced to confront someone, then you must follow the four firearm safety rules to ensure you only shoot at identified/confirmed threats, not unknown shadowy figures.

Oct 162012

‘When seconds count, the police are only minutes away’. In an emergency, is a phone or firearm most likely to save your life?

It is late at night, and you’ve just heard the unmistakable sound of intruders kicking down your front door and invading your home.  Within minutes – perhaps even within seconds – they’ll be in your bedroom.

Imagine that you have a choice of two items on your nightstand.  One is a cellphone with 911 programmed into its speed-dial.  The other is a loaded pistol.  Which would you reach for as the sound of the intruders’ footsteps approaches your door?

This is actually a somewhat unfair scenario, because the correct answer is ‘both’ and there should never be a real world scenario where we are restricted to a choice of only one of these two essential items.

So let’s reword the question – Would you wish to keep a loaded firearm close at hand in your bedroom, as well as a phone?  Or is a phone all you’ll ever need to guarantee your safety?

We have a follow-up question, too – especially if you feel that all you will ever need is a phone.  How long is the average – and worst case – response time for your local police to arrive at your residence; from the time you first pick up your phone, to the time multiple units have reached your property and the officers in question have worked out a strategy for responding to your home invasion?  Oh – did we not mention?  If you call the police and say ‘There are multiple intruders in my house’ there’s close to no chance that the first car to arrive, with probably only one officer in it, will do anything other than observe.  He’ll wait for more officers, and ideally for a K-9 unit, before even getting out of his cruiser.

Don’t forget also the time it takes to get through to 911, to verify your address and other information, and to persuade the operator that your call is genuine and deserving of a highest priority despatch.  That will eat up a minute or more of time before the police ever start rolling towards your home.

The best case scenario is that you’ll be waiting 5 – 10 minutes before any police response starts to make its presence felt.  Worst case?  You could be still waiting, half an hour later, due to the police being too busy on other priority calls, and you needing to wait your turn, or due to a tragic series of command miss-steps and excessive caution and concern for ‘officer safety’ such as sometimes happens when the police respond to such calls.

In the scenario where intruders are already in your house, you don’t have 10 minutes; you don’t even have 5 minutes.  Your life, and that of your loved ones, could change profoundly in the next 30 seconds if you don’t do something to directly impact on what is about to otherwise happen.

We do agree – it is always best practice to call the police as soon as you are aware of intruders in your house, and to then try to get out of the house and to escape, or failing that, to barricade yourself as best you can in your bedroom or bathroom, and hope the police turn up before the intruders get to you.  You should call out to the intruders telling them to leave, and advising them you’ve called the police and they’re on their way.

But do you want to trust your life to the desperate hope that this will be all you need to do?  Intruders are not necessarily rational people and in a sober state of mind.  They may be high on mind-altering (mind-destroying) drugs, and may not be worried at the thought of the police having been called, and/or they might know how long it will take for the police to arrive and not feel any time pressure at all.

For all these reasons, it is prudent to have a firearm conveniently at hand to use as a last-ditch defense option.

Not everyone agrees with this recommendation.  Read, and weep upon seeing, the assertion boldly made by (thankfully now retired) Supreme Court Justice Stevens, who in recently addressing a group of DC gun haters, suggested (quoted near the bottom of this article)

Stevens also had a recommendation for people who keep a weapon in their homes for self-defense purposes. “Maybe you have some kind of constitutional right to have a cell phone with a pre-dialed 911 in the number at your bedside and that might provide you with a little better protection than a gun which you’re not used to using,” he said to laughter.

Sadly, we suspect the laughter was not at Justice Stevens for uttering such a preposterous nonsense, but with him, at the imagined foolishness of people who seek to have a firearm as well as a phone for their personal protection.

Oh – as for the rest of his opinions that are referred to in the article?  Being as how he was on the losing minority side of both the two Supreme Court cases that dealt with the Second Amendment in 2005 and 2010, there’s little reason to respect his opinions and legal interpretations now as being any more accurate than they were in those two cases.  He is clearly a gun-hater and views the law through that distorted perspective only.

But it for sure is a scary thought that a person who was formerly (and for 35 long years) one of the nine people who hold ultimate say over our ability to own and use firearms, would offer up such imbecilic nonsense as suggesting that we don’t need firearms and that cell phones are all the protection we need.  Has he never heard the oh-so-obviously true adage ‘When seconds count, the police are only minutes away’?

Update, March 2018 :  Justice Stevens again showed his animosity to the Second Amendment and his eagerness to overturn the US Constitution in an “Op-Ed” opinion piece he published in the NY Times, also no great lover of the Second Amendment.  He suggested the Second Amendment should be eliminated.  Thankfully, it isn’t as easy as he might wish it to be to overturn the wisdom of our founders.

Oct 162012

These two men robbed a couple returning home. The couple could have prevented the robbery.

Here’s a short report of a Redmond, WA couple who returned home late at night (1.30am) and were robbed at gunpoint when they got out of their car.

Redmond is a suburb of Seattle and is best known for being the home of Microsoft.  It is an up-market and prosperous small city of 52,000, and is generally blessed with very little crime.

We are going to risk being politically incorrect by citing another Redmond statistic.  Only 1.22% of people in Redmond are African-American (source), as were the two robbers in this incident.

We’re not saying that all African-Americans in Redmond are armed robbers, but we are saying that the couple probably would have noticed the two men and recognized them as not being neighbors, and – sorry to say this – as not looking like the sort of people normally found in their nice neighborhood, either.

So here’s the thing.  It is 1.30am, and you’ve just driven home, and are about to park your car outside your residence when you notice two strangers on the street with no apparent reason for being there, and who clearly look as though they are neither local residents nor likely visitors to local residents.  Should you park your car as you normally would, get out, and walk along the sidewalk in close proximity to these two people, go to your residence, unlock the door and let yourself inside?

You are actually creating two vulnerabilities here, and it could be said that this couple suffered the lesser of the two outcomes.

The first vulnerability is clearly the one that occurred – getting robbed on the street.

The second vulnerability is the more serious one.  You unlock and open your front door, and the two men suddenly rush you and get inside your home, where they can then, in private, do whatever they wish to you and your home.  It could be argued that the couple in this case got off lightly – only a mild amount of personal injury and the loss of cash, jewelry and personal items.

So what should you do?

The easiest thing is that if you see people who look out-of-place, and who are present for no obvious purpose; simply keep on driving and come back in five minutes.  If they are still there – ie, loitering, call the police and wait for their arrival before stopping and exiting your car.

And that is where a self-imposed political correctness constraint often comes into play.  Many people feel awkward at calling the police and saying ‘there are two black men hanging around my residence, so I’m scared’.  They don’t want to sound like paranoid racists.

We don’t want to get into the whole causal debate about why it is so, but we will simply cite the statistic that blacks are eight times more likely to commit robberies than people of other races (source).  This statistic varies somewhat depending on how/where/when it is calculated, but whether it is eight times or perhaps a number that may be more or less, and whether it is due to the black robber-to-be coming from an unhappy home life or whatever else, the impossible to ignore fact is there is an elevated risk of being the victim of a violent crime when the potential perpetrator is black rather than white.

The police already know this, although they have to be careful not to ‘profile’, even though many people might think that it makes sense to concentrate the policing on the high risk sectors of society.  So there’s no need to pretend that the issue doesn’t exist.

We’re not saying you should go to a heightened state of alertness just because you see an African-American on the street.  But we are saying that you shouldn’t fight off a feeling of unease just because your sense of political correctness is trying to over-power your street-smarts sense of what feels out-of-place and uncomfortable.

And, more than anything else, we are definitely saying that the best outcome of any confrontation is to avoid the confrontation in the first place.  If anything ever looks out-of-place and makes you feel vaguely uncomfortable, then if at all possible, take evasive action to avoid the possibility of any problem occurring.  Sometimes all it takes is to cross the road.  Sometimes – as in this case – it is better to delay your return home and drive around the block for a while, rather than leave the safety of your vehicle, and potentially expose both yourself and your residence to violent criminals.