As some of the regulars know, I’m a volunteer EMT in my spare time. Something happened on Monday night that I wanted to share with you. I want to get your opinion on concerning the use of force . . .

It was about 10:30 pm. The shift was almost over. We’d been in service since 5 pm. All three of us (the driver and the OIC as well as myself) had worked a full eight-hour day for our day jobs before showing up for another seven hours on the ambulance. I was nodding off in the office when the station alarm went off. We were dispatched to a 70-year-old man who’d been involved in an assault. Monday nights are always the slow night of the week for calls, but this one was shaping up nicely.

Thirty seconds after dispatch, we were rolling out of the ambulance bay. Two minutes later we rolled up on the scene (response times are ridiculously good around here). The police were already taking statements. It looked as if they’d been there for some time. The victim was talking to the police through an interpreter (he only spoke Spanish). The vic barely had a scratch on him.

The police officer leaned over to us and mumbled “I’m sorry to call you guys out for something trivial like this, but all he has is a little scratch on the back of his hand and I’m out of bandages.”

We asked the standard set of questions. Do you need to go to the hospital? Did you hit your head? Do you want us to examine you? He made it clear that he just wanted to be on his way. But as we were standing there, he kept saying something to the police and making the standard gesture for “gun” with his hand. It took the cops a couple minutes to realize what he was saying. They finally asked “did your attacker have a gun?” Yes, yes he did.

The victim hopped a bus after finishing the police report. The officer filled us in. Apparently, someone grabbed a woman’s bag on a bus and tried to make off with it. The man we’d treated stood up and blocked the bad guy from escaping, trying to get the bag back. A scuffle ensued. The attacker drew a gun. The man stood his ground. The attacker left without the bag and without firing a single shot.

What made me nervous about that situation wasn’t being next to a large white box with flashing lights talking to someone who was ratting out a guy who was on the loose in the area with a gun. It was how badly that situation could have turned if another “Good Samaritan” had drawn their gun in that man’s defense. Two pistols hastily aimed and quickly fired on a crowded bus could have made for a level of carnage that I thankfully have yet to see while in uniform. But, on the other hand, if done properly then the assailant would have been arrested instead of fleeing into the inky blackness of the night.

I’m conflicted about how I would have handled the situation if it had been me on that bus. So my question is this: would you have stepped in to stop this guy from getting away with the woman’s purse (like the older Hispanic gentleman on Monday night did) if you were carrying a concealed weapon, even if you didn’t intend to employ the use or threat of deadly force? How about once the older man was threatened with a gun, would you have intervened with deadly force on his behalf?

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15 Responses to Question of the Day: Should You Always Meet Deadly Force with Deadly Force?

  1. Q1: I would not step in just for a purse. Even more so if I did not intend to employ my use or threat of deadly force.

    Q2: it depends on my location in the bus in relationship to the BG. If the old man is trying to get killed over a purse, I would be more reluctant to help.

  2. I can’t help it-if someone threatened to shoot someone like that, and if I had a clear shot-I’d take the shot. One less armed thug is a good thing.

    • I’m with Cujo. Bad guy points a gun at someone, I’d shoot him … If I had the opportunity, and lived in a state that allowed me to carry a gun … That’s a dangerous situation. As it turned out, the BG didn’t want to be a murderer that night; but the only “safe” assumption is that the BG is willing to pull the trigger. I’m not willing to watch him do it if I have the power to stop him.

  3. This incident is more the threat of deadly force then its actual employment so yeah stay calm and don’t attract attention. If the BG pulls the trigger then you have assume that the first shot isn’t going to be his last then you are going to have make some serious decisions. If you are fortunate enough and he shoots and runs then just call 911 and render any aid that you are capable of giving.

    If deadly force is used then you always engage if you are armed. (haveing a clear shot, no collateral damage and the usual other caveats ) Do you think he is going to stop with the first guy? Until the first shot is fired try to stay calm and under the radar.

  4. Would I intervene in a purse-snatching? Yeah, maybe I’d do that, and maybe I wouldn’t. I won’t know until and unless something like that happens. What I know for sure is that I would never shoot a guy over a purse. Would I use deadly force if the purse-snatcher pointed a gun at me? Hell, yes. If it comes down to him or me, I may get nominated but he’s getting elected. Did this purse-snatcher actually have a gun on him, or did he have a toy or a BB-gun? I’m guessing that if he had a real roscoe, he would have used it.

  5. Interesting situation, with good responses. Drawing a weapon may elicit an escalation in violence. Additionally, know the laws of your state in this situation would help make a decision as well. I too would have drawn my weapon on the dirtbag, but would have truly assessed what was beyond my target.

  6. Probably the most important question ANY day an armed citizen is faced with a lethal do-I/do-I-not conundrum. Is the gun (or knife)-waving perp motivated by a desire to kill or a desire to only relieve someone of their personal property?

    I recently found useful ruminations about this from No Nonsense Self Defense (http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/activeshooter.html):
    “A threat display or the different kinds of violence are NOT [indications that] someone TRYING to kill you. Can they escalate into physical violence? Yes. Can go from a simple assault to an aggravated assault? Absolutely. Can they result in death? Yes (Especially if you try to counter a weapon-based threat display with one of your own). However — we must stress again — most violence is NOT about killing. It is about achieving a goal.

    And this includes the displaying or brandishing of a weapon. The reason to brandish is so the person doesn’t have to use it.”

  7. As long as the shot is clear, and there is no real risk of hitting someone else, I say take the shot. You don’t know if the bad guy with the gun was going to use it or not.

  8. Would I stop the purse snatcher from leaving the bus? Probably. If brandished a gun or otherwise got the drop on me, I’d have a tendency to let him pass if that’s what he was demanding. I don’t want to be shot or cause others on the bus to be shot either. If I thought he was going to shoot me anyway, all bets are off and I’ll defend myself with whatever force or weapon I have available. I won’t be a victim. Still, speculation is still only speculation. Having never been in such a situation, I can only hope and pray I make the right split-second decision. Consequences will follow.

  9. Good question for thought. Brings up the issue of “can you?” vs “should you?”

    But as good as the question is , it’s simply not answerable. Too many variables.

    What I would have done would have depended on where I was sitting, with whom, how much of the event I could actually see, when in the event I noticed things happening, etc.

    But if deadly force is actually being used right then, in an illegal manner, against me, darn right I’m going to respond with deadly force if I can at all.

  10. It depends. Deadly force should always be met with the threat of deadly force. If they’ve gone so far as to pull a gun out, you cannot be assured that they will *not* use it. You only have one life, and it’s up to you to defend it. You should do your best to be in a position where if someone has a gun and raises it in your direction, or in the direction of another person, you are able to end the threat. Obvious things like ‘a clear shot’ and ‘what is behind the bad guy’ taken into consideration of course.

    You cannot be assured that the bad guy with the gun is in his / her right of mind either. Most of the article and the comments seem to assume that. Someone addicted to pain killers (as in the recent pharmacy shooting) or other drugs isn’t necessarily going to make a good ‘cost:benefit’ analysis of the situation.

    Life in prison may be nowhere inside their thought process. So what would *stop* them from pulling the trigger may be far less than you’d reasonably expect. In Texas, as far as concealed carry goes, you can use lethal force to save the life of another person that is in a situation where it can be reasonably assumed that they will die if lethal force is not used to defend them.

    Laws do vary from state to state, and it’s best to know the ones that affect you in good detail, but here, if I’m somewhere and a person pulls a gun out with ill intent, I will do my best to defend my life and the lives of others around me.

    If that means rushing the bad guy if I’m within a few feet of them, or using a gun if I’m not that close, or simply getting everyone out of the area if it’s possible to do so with the reasonable expectation that it can be done without getting a bullet or two in the back, I’ll do that.

    Inactivity when the threat of lethal force is present is a terrible idea.

  11. If the only important thing is to avoid injury or death, you stay calm, do what the perp wants, and help him get away with your property. No joke.

    If your priorities include being right, winning, retaining chattel, being a hero, or executing a thief, then you should consider waving a fucking gun around in front of a crazy criminal who also has a gun.

    It’s up to you.

  12. PS remember that he was stealing a purse by threatening someone with a gun, not holding hostages and shooting one per hour.

    Driving drunk involves threatening strangers with deadly force. But if you see a drunk driver, you don’t speed up and t-bone him on the driver’s door “for safety’s sake”.

  13. I am also a volunteer EMT, BTW. Your Monday night was a little busier than mine ;-).

    Indeed, you have identified an interesting gray area as we walk the sheepdog’s path. While most states’ deadly force statutes authorize the use of same to address an imminent threat of death or serious injury to one’s self, it is not at all clear that we can lawfully intervene in a lethal force scenario involving a stranger. Morally and ethically, provided that you know which party is the bad guy (clear in this case, not so in others), we have the high ground to do so.

    In Ohio, my current state of residence, the affirmative defense definition for self-defense would seemingly have not applied because the perp also had a right to be in the vehicle (ORC 2901.05 (2)(a)).

    In Washington, where I lived previously, there is quite a bit more latitude, and indeed the private citizen is explicitly given broader discretion in use of force. (RCW 9a.16.020 and .040)

    But, Ohio, even with possible pending changes, still has what is probably the worst concealed carry and use of force laws in the country, so that’s not a surprise.

    Given the environment – a public bus – there would almost certainly be no “safe direction”, and the potential for collateral damage quite high.. So what might not get reported as a mugging on a bus could easily escalate to a multiple victim shooting on a bus, at the armed citizen’s hand, and you’d get your 15 minutes or so of fame.

    I would certainly try to look closely to see if the handgun being pointed at the other individual is loaded, on safe, or a toy – which is not uncommon, and then maybe use a knife, or use the handgun in a crocodile dundee (“that’s not a handgun..) manner as a way to end the encounter more favorably.

    But, as much as I know we’d like to view ourselves as protecting others as well as ourselves, unless the “other” is a family member or close friend, or the situation has escalated to an active shooter, the prevailing attitude in society/the media/the cops does not substantially differentiate the armed citizen, from the perp. For that reason, I’d go to condition red, keeping my “line in the sand” a more direct threat to me or mine.

  14. it would depend if the perp looks like a gangsta wantabe. You know the kind that escalate violence one crime at a time until they get stopped. If I had a clear shot at the previously mentioned individual without collateral damage the perp is history.

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