Self-Defense Tip: Don’t Start a Gunfight

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“Officials said two armed suspects wearing bandannas entered and attempted to rob the [Denny’s restaurant],” clicktohouston.com reports (as well as our own Daniel Zimmerman). “The sole customer in the restaurant, a licensed concealed handgun carrier, observed the suspects enter, pulled out his own gun, took cover and fired at the robbers. Officials said the suspects returned fire and fled the restaurant. The customer followed the suspects, firing as he went. The suspects jumped into a white minivan and fled the scene.” Whoa, that’s a whole lot of potential fail right there . . .

In keeping with TTAG’s tradition of staying ahead of the gun blogging curve, here are some Monday morning quarterbacking-based tips for your Sunday contemplation. Three main things to keep in mind before an armed robbery happens, so that you’re thinking straight when it does. If you can . . .

1. The only gunfight you’re sure to win is the one that doesn’t happen

As soon as the lead starts flying, you stand a chance of unwelcome aeration: new holes out of which your life-sustaining bodily fluid will flow. Never mind what could happen inside your body when good projectiles go bad. So . . . don’t start a gunfight.

The best way not to do that is to not be there. Unless you have loved ones in tow and/or you can’t extract Team You, when the robbery begins, hit the bricks. You have no legal obligation to protect innocent life. (Neither do cops but don’t get me started.)

Nor is it always wise to draw your weapon. A bad guy who sees a good guy reach for a gun could well view the sudden appearance of a firearm as provocation (go figure). Perhaps the Denny’s denizen should have found concealment (technically not “cover”) before withdrawing his gun. Or as he withdrew his piece.

Judgement call, obviously. Or instinct. But it behooves the Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) permit holder to at least consider the possibility of hiding, readying his or her weapon whilst remaining concealed and doing . . . nothing. If the bad guys want money, let them have it. The money, that is.

2. Look for trouble inside of trouble

An armed robbery is bad. Adrenalin flowing like beer at an Irish wake. People yelling, guns, panic, screams, etc. Yes, well, never forget the old adage “it could be worse.” An armed robbery can morph from larceny to mass murder in a New York minute. Luckily, there are warning signs.

The more aggressive the robbers, the “better” the chances that your life is in danger. While you can’t really expect an armed robber to be polite, there’s aggressive and there’s fucking insane. It’s the difference between “Give me the money” and “I’m going to kill every one of you!”

Another clear sign that your gun may soon be in police custody: physical violence. If the perp hits someone you should be ratcheting-up your readiness to do what needs doing with your firearm. But not necessarily do it. As horrific as it is, a beat down is not a bullet hole.

If the robbery situation goes all the way—a perp actually shoots someone—you probably want to shoot the bad guy or guys before they even see you—just in case. YJMV (Your Jury May Vary).

3. Don’t miss 

Here we have a CCW holder who fires at two robbers—chases them in fact—who fire at him. Nobody gets hit. Thank God for that. But if this is you, you need to do better. A LOT better. Either stop the threat by hitting your target(s) center mass or use your bullets to buy yourself enough time to run away from the bad guys.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s no point shooting at another human being without actually hitting them. Any round that comes out of your gun that doesn’t hit your target is a “stray bullet.” It does nothing to help you. As LC Judas points out below, shooting at someone is a good way to inspire them to shoot at you. And any damage done by a “stray bullet” is your responsibility.

We’ve suggested a lot of ways to increase combat accuracy. Close the distance. Take your time. Repeat your favorite self-defense mantra (front site, front site). Whatever it takes, try to make every round count.

I know that most people act on pure instinct when they find themselves in a battle for their life. But just as some people are better at coping during violent conflicts than others, some people have a better plan to survive than others. The best plan is avoidance. The next best is winning.

comments

  1. avatar LC Judas says:

    In all honesty, it is impossible to make a conscientious and rational decision at the time of that type of unclear disaster. By the time you figure out the robber is short tempered and already breaking parole on his second heavy legal strike someone (namely you) could already have caught a bullet.

    Personally I would have done the same but only if I could have reasonably assured myself of a hit in my opening shots and only if it wasn’t crowded (know your Target and what is beyond, even in a catastrophe if possible). Yes, firing at them repelled them but it did start additional gunfire for the perps to feel they needed to defend their lives. Not like a robbers right to self defense holds up but you as a shooter attract gunfire. It will be debated if your action causes a chain that hurts others even if your bullets found safe homes in the wall or suspects.

    Before you sit down it likely is best to decide whether you will be more likely to fight or fly. Factor in your exit strategy versus the idea of bolting across open ground to achieve egress. If its a run you’re sure you’ll make or are willing to make then go. If not then find a defensive position and watch your aggressors, weapon drawn. It’s your call whether to shoot or not and your judgement versus a jury if you do.

    Bottom line is don’t get killed. Being a Target usually causes it and either action can make you one. Pick the better gamble. The Jury factor comes last since a bad call can be a casket instead of charges brought against you.

  2. avatar JOE MATAFOME says:

    These are all excellent points and they could all save your life someday. I was wondering what the distance was between the BG’s and the good guy, because he should have hit at least one of the BG’s if he was shooting from cover. I guess it’s easy to say that he should have hit at least one BG, but under stress it’s a whole different world and even the police miss.He should have just let these two fools run away, because chasing them just placed a lot of innocent people in danger of being shot.

  3. avatar 2Wheels says:

    Hard for me to judge him on opening fire on the BGs, I wasn’t there. Possibly could have been the right move.

    What I can and will judge him on is chasing them outside… BAD idea to expose himself and any bystanders to more danger as he fired at the BGs as he followed them.

    Plus, from what I understand it’s not uncommon for robbers to have a lookout/getaway driver waiting outside. He could have been running into even more BGs waiting outside.

  4. avatar 230therapy says:

    I applaud the good guy’s attempt, but he ended up wasting ammo and risking the lives of hapless citizens in the area.

    The problem is that most people go to the range, fire 50 or 100 rounds at a piece of paper and believe they are prepared. This is most unfortunate since they really have no clue how to run their gun under stress.

  5. avatar Kansas Scout says:

    While I mostly agree with your point of view, each case has it’s own feel and impressions and there are times when your inner alarm bell goes off for some reason. I believe you should listen to that inner voice. If your trying to be the cavalry come to the rescue, that’s pretty dangerous, and if it’s for other peoples money, who may not show the desired appreciation, then discretion is the better part of valor but if the game is on don’t hold back.

  6. avatar great unknown says:

    In the great state of Texas, I think the CCW holder is legally in the clear – doesn’t even require imminent danger to life; just a crime being committed. You are also depending on the new report that he drew before taking cover. Since when are you such a follower of MSM?

    On the other hand, following them outside was a bit extreme, although a) he seems to have been rather accurate based on the holes in the van and b) you have no idea if he checked for any innocents in the vicinity.

    According to the link on your site, this was 5:50 am Saturday, he was the only customer in the store, and it probable that there was nobody in the street.

  7. avatar Mark says:

    You don’t know if they had weapons drawn, and even if they didn’t, if they were intending to draw their weapons. The difference between a murder and a robbery can be hard to tell beforehand. He did the best thing he could have in the situation given what he could have known at the time.

  8. avatar Silver says:

    Assuming this man drew and fired based on something other than just wanting to start a gunfight, I respect people who believe in the moral obligation to protect innocent life even though there’s no legal obligation. People whose mindsets are so narrow as to only include “them and theirs” in life or death situations are frankly no better than any other problem in the country today.

    As far as I’m concerned, this guy did right, even if he may not have had the stress preparation to back it up…and he really shouldn’t have chased them, of course.

  9. avatar Ralph says:

    Our Hero fired his piece and hit nothing? What is he, some kinda off-duty cop?

  10. avatar Darren says:

    If I remember the Texas standards, lethal force is justified if there is a credible threat to your life or that of another, not if a crime is being committed. If somebody wants to try to rob a store with a fish, you can’t open fire as there is no credible threat to your life or that of another.

    Castle Doctrine doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility for your firing, and if people end up getting shot do you really want to count on ballistics to prove it wasn’t you who shot them inadvertently? And by the way, words like “inadvertently” are chum in the water for plaintiff attorneys. Your ballistics expert will say it wasn’t your 9mm JHP that caused the damage, and their ballistics expert will say it was. Then it’s over to twelve of your peers who don’t know the difference between your carefully-selected defense load and Wolf FMJ, and who really don’t care, because that poor lady got shot by somebody.

    The chase into the parking lot and continued firing is just stupid. I agree completely with the commenter that mentioned the driver, long guns fit much better in cars. Chasing into the parking lot sound a lot like an adrenaline-fueled rage, which I would admit I would probably be in if someone pointed a gun at me and fired it, but it’s also a recipe for getting killed. Doorways are referred to as “vertical coffins” for a reason, get the employees to a) call 911 and b) barricade the other doors while you find cover (as close as you can in a Dennys), hold on the door and wait for the flashing blue and red lights to appear outside. I doubt there are very many Dennys robbers who have a lot of experience with dynamic entry, if they want to come through the door it simplifies your targeting solution considerably.

    Adrenaline-fueled rage is also not something you want to display evidence of if a bystander has been shot. Again, liability: “My client was wounded not by the unapprehended suspects, but by a wanna-be gunslinger who was so out of control he chased two armed men into the parking lot and fired round after round into a neighborhood.” Not fair, but it’s a legal system, not a justice system.

  11. avatar great unknown says:

    see this article for an overview : http://www.johntfloyd.com/comments/february08/27a.htm

    The money quote is: “In effect,” said Anthony Sebak, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School, “the [Castle Doctrine] allows citizens to kill other citizens in defense of property.” [in Texas] More specifically, lethal force may be used to prevent robbery, even on someone else’s property, and even with no imminent threat to innocents.

    You might also check the wikipedia article on the “Joe Horn Shooting controversy.”

  12. avatar RAN says:

    I agree with not starting a gun fight if you don’t have to, but the perps entered with guns drawn. So in my eyes they started the gun fight. As was mentioned in a previous post “Luby’s”. There’s been to many times where thieves have decided to leave no witnesses. Obviously it’s a bad situation all the way around. Just glad the citizen has the option to second guess what he would have done differently.

    1. avatar percynjpn says:

      Very well put! +1

      Todd

  13. avatar Texan says:

    I read and learn from all of these “What if…?” TTAG articles and the comments – thanks very much.

    Being part of the “Armed Intelligentsia,” I would love to see the general conversation and legal system gradually turn away from us blaming and second-guessing the legal CCW holder and putting the blame squarely with the assailants and their mal-actions, chosen of their own free will.

    Wouldn’t it be great if the perps were responsible for any and all collateral damage/casualties caused by a criminal act of their own doing rather than having to think about how a law-abiding CCW-holder needs to CYA in order to do the right thing?

    1. avatar ThomasD says:

      They would and they are. Any death that resulted directly from their overt criminal act – such as gunfire from a person lawfully defending against armed – would bring felony murder charges against the robbers.

      None of which would absolve the lawful defender from civil liability, but unless proven grossly negligent he would not be criminally liable for for his acts.

      Picture yourself driving down a city street, someone steps out in front of your path and levels a shotgun in your direction, you swerve to avoid the blast, driving up on the sidewalk (a place known to contain otherwise defenseless pedestrians) and run over someones grandmother.

      Who committed the crime?

  14. avatar Dirk Diggler says:

    what kind of gun was it? May explain his poor shot.

  15. avatar Skyler says:

    This is an amazing post. The hero stops a robbery and so many people here pile on to criticize him.

    The man had a great responsibility to chase those robbers. They were armed and dangerous. He was in the best position to stop them. That he missed is unfortunate but it does no detract from what appears to me to be a proper heroic response.

    As for the advice that he should have just let the robbers have someone else’s money, I can’t think of a more despicable piece of advice. This scenario is exactly what the people of Texas intended when they allowed concealed handgun licensing. You might like to pretend that these robbers just wanted money, but it is just as likely they were going to shoot the poor woman at the cash register.

    The cowardly responses advocated here sicken me.

    1. avatar Justice28 says:

      What he said… Realizing a CHL is not a badge, the point of having the right to defend yourself and other innocent people is what separates us from communist countries like Mexico where cartels and thugs are allowed to terrorize and brutally oppress the public. If we are to sit here at our keyboards and judge this man whom put his life on the line (maybe foolishly tactically speaking) then shame on us for not being willing to put aside the bantering and not stepping up to protect our fellow sheepdog. Those idiot thugs brought the fight to the cashier whom is awake and WORKING at 5am for income rather than out stealing and terrorizing, the armed citizen didn’t bring the fight to them.

      1. avatar Darren says:

        All props to the guy for a) going to the trouble and expense of having a CHL and b) engaging when a lethal threat presented itself. This I have no problem with, and admire the guy for. As I said before, continuing the confrontation into the parking lot is likely an adrenaline issue, but not something I would consider doing for a variety of reasons, all of them good. I mention this not to criticize the guy for his actions, but to remind myself to not do the same thing.

        I didn’t get a cape and a sidekick when they sent my CHL in the mail, the fact that they are armed and dangerous AND FLEEING does not in any way, manner, shape or form obligate, entitle or empower me to pursue them. By your logic should Mr. CHL pursue in his car until law enforcement personnel can take over pursuit? I mean, they are still armed and dangerous right? And you got to the Denny’s in a car, right? So it must be the responsibility of CHL holders to pursue in a vehicle, the way you see it? Or how about just getting to the trunk and unlimbering an AK or AR? Rifles are better than pistols for shooting at a fleeing vehicle, right? ‘Cause you gotta stop those guys, after all they’re “armed and dangerous”.

        In a word, no. When the scene is controlled and the bad guys are gone, wait for the police & give your statement. There is plenty of case law for the inadvisability of entry wounds in the back, finishing shots, etc., both civilly and criminally. Self-defense cases have been sent to trial because in the space of firing four shots ONE of them ended up entering the posterior flank of a perp who was in the process of turning while being shot. Is that wrong? Of course. Is your freedom and good name still at risk, and will you drop $50G or more on lawyer’s fees? Absolutely, if you find a DA that doesn’t like the cut of your jib and wants to make a name.

        When there is a barrier between you & the bad guys and they’re leaving, your job is done. Use the doorway to frame your shots, make THEM go into the Fatal Funnel and DO NOT PURSUE. Tactically and legally you are on much safer ground.

        A CHL is not a deputization. Treat it like one and you will come to regret it.

  16. avatar Tom says:

    Actually, in most gun fights, cops, civilians, perps, all tend to fire much and hit little. Military is just as bad. Chasing the bad guys into the street was a bad move on many fronts.
    Having been in high stress situations with a gun, I think the closest thing to a drill would be Trap or Skeet Shooting.

  17. avatar HueManG23 says:

    All points of the OP are well taken. It is understandable the OP will not advocate a stance on a LEGAL CCW law abiding citizen “stepping up” to protect Property and/or person(s). The flaw in the well written article is the “Soon, Certain” negative consequence of criminal behavior. When the majority of BG’s are planted as a result of their behavior the thinking of HoodRats WILL change (with the exception of those zonked on PCP or Meth). A by-product of a Law Abiding Citizen with a CCW in a justifiable use of lethal force will be one of respect from LEO’s (hopefully) instead of the disdain we the people that pay their salary are accustomed to receiving.

    What would I have done? Was the Good Guy justified? Answer to both is an honest I Don’t Know. I wasn’t there, I didn’t see/hear all that took place.

    I do wholeheartedly agree the Good Guy needs to improve upon his marksmanship skills. In a word…IDPA!

    A parting thought. Why do/did those of us jump through the hoop of government permission to exercise our 2A rights when obtaining CCW “permission”? To be cool? To be prepared? To be able to protect ourselves? To feel more confident in a world run amuck? As far as self-defense goes, an ounce of prevention is worth 180gr of cure every day of the week. Don’t we the CCW’ers of America owe it to the rest of the law abiding non-CCW community the same feelings of self protection we afford ourselves? I think we do and therein lies a plethora of dilemmas we must analyze so rapidly and with forethought of what a “reasonable” person would have done that it boggles the mind. Every day I leave my home I say a prayer for guidance should I ever be faced with a imminent danger situation to myself and other law abiding Americans and make that good decision.

    Evil will ALWAYS triumph when Good Men do nothing!

  18. avatar HueManG23 says:

    Seems like my reply to the OP kinda “disappeared” ;(

  19. avatar ThomasD says:

    Was there really any effective cover inside of the place? Don’t you mean concealment?

    From the sounds of it it looks like everyone involved did one thing right – when the threat arises get your butt moving, which certainly could explain the lack of hits on everyone’s part.

    Hitting a moving target is hard, hitting a target while moving is hard, add the two together and hits percentages plummet.

  20. I made a decision long ago that if I were in a restaurant and a robbery took place, so long as it was only money, that was between the owner and his insurance company. However, if the bad guys looked like they were going to go beyond demanding money, or if they pointed a gun at me, I’d shoot. Money can be replaced. The lives of cashiers and patrons can’t. The latter are worth defending.

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