[Click here to listen the 911 call made from a private residence in Springville Utah where a home owner shot and killed an invader.] This series has long argued that there are two parts to armed self-defense. Defending yourself against a lethal threat and defending yourself against prosecution for defending yourself against a lethal threat. Just as the first rule of a gunfight is have a gun, the first rule for staying out of jail and/or losing everything you own due to defensive gun use is STFU (Shut The F Up). That rule starts from the moment you call the cavalry. Here’s the 411 on 911 . . .
1. Make the call as short as possible
911 operators are trained to keep the caller on the line as long as they can, until the first responders make the scene. You are under no legal obligation to remain in contact with the operator.
By the same token, the 911 operators are trained to extract as much information from the caller as possible. You are under no legal obligation to answer any of the operator’s questions.
f you’re in the middle of a Defensive Gun Use (DGU) talking to a 911 operator is not a particularly good use of your time (as opposed to say hiding, running or fighting). If it’s a post-game show, you don’t want anything you say to be used against you in a court of law. And yet everything you say to a 911 operator can and will be used against you in a court of law.
It’s also the way you say it. In the example above, the caller laughs nervously. Well, you and I think it’s a nervous laugh. A prosecutor might convince a jury to hear it another way. Hint: not a good way.
So communicate the basic information necessary: the situation (there’s an intruder in my house/there’s been a shooting), your address, a description of yourself and the medical condition of a wounded friendly (if applicable). After that? Nada. What else do the cops need to know? Nothing. Not a damn thing.
2. Either hang up or put the phone down as soon as possible
Once you’ve shared the key info, either hang up or put the phone down. The former is the best strategy if the DGU is done. The latter is the best option if the situation is in progress.
If you throw the phone down—an excellent idea from a strategic/situational awareness point of view—remember that you’re being recorded.
Use that to your advantage. If it’s safe to do so, yell a warning to the intruder. “The police are on their way. I’ve got a gun. Don’t make me me shoot you.” Over-zealous prosecutors hate that stuff. Juries love it.
Again, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. If you start swearing, laughing (even nervously) or go for some Clint Eastwood-like line before pulling the trigger, that will NOT work out well for you.
3. Do not discuss the 911 call with the cops
Police/detectives arriving on scene will try to extract as much information from you as possible. The cops may try and use information from the 911 call to get you to talk before you lawyer up. Lawyer up. Tell them “My life was in danger” and “I will answer all your questions after I speak with my attorney.” And . . . that’s it. Nothing else.
Don’t be fooled by 911 operators’ good intentions (which are beyond doubt). They are not trying to get you into trouble. But by God they can.
I know it’s difficult not to tell a helpful stranger anything they want to know in a time of grave danger. But give them the basics and STFU. Don’t give law enforcement and the perp’s lawyer the ammunition they need to turn you from an armed self-defender into a victim of the legal system.