“Jeffrey Giuliano got a call from his sister next door saying that someone might be trying to break into her home,” theeagle.com reports. “Giuliano grabbed a gun and went outside to investigate, troopers said. He confronted someone in a black ski mask and black clothing and opened fire when the person came at him with a knife, police said. When officers arrived, the teen was lying in the driveway of his aunt’s home with gunshot wounds and the father was sitting on the grass . . .

The teen was pronounced dead at the scene. A state trooper pulled back the ski mask to reveal that the victim was Tyler Giuliano . . . Police said the youngster’s intentions were unclear and they were investigating whether he was actually trying to burglarize the house or if it was some type of prank gone wrong.

I’m not so sure it matters. The boy’s mask prevented his fifth grade teacher father from identifying his son. If indeed the young man moved towards his father knife-in-hand, the his fate was sealed.

I don’t see how Mr. Guiliano could have played this differently. If his neighbor wasn’t his sister, one could suggest that he should have let the police handle the situation. But that kind of timid response would have been distinctly unneighborly, and Tyler may still have ended-up at room temperature anyway, courtesy of the cops.

Nope. This was a tragedy in the Greek style, where the victim’s hubris delivered his own downfall. But we can learn something more. The calamity highlights the importance of the oft-neglected fourth rule of gun safety: identify your target, and what is behind it.

I won’t insult your intelligence and remind you to make damn sure that the person you’re about to shoot needs shooting. You know the drill: you can only shoot someone who poses a credible, imminent, lethal threat to your life or the lives of other innocent people. Or is about inflict grievous bodily harm. Or to prevent a kidnapping.

You know as well as I do that daughters can let boyfriends sneak into the house, drunks can wander into the wrong place and police (yes them) can get the wrong address. Just because someone’s not where they should be doesn’t mean they’re a lethal threat.

My constant refrain in response to these tragic tales of mistaken identity: practice drawing, aiming and NOT shooting.

I’m not suggesting that Mr. Giuliano drew, aimed and fired without pause. Or that if he HAD paused before pulling the trigger his son would have self-identified and saved his life. There’s not enough information to even guess at an alternative outcome.

That said, this homicide flags the fact that the decision to shoot another human being should involve a sequence of mental trip wires. Ideally, you should decide to draw your gun, decide to bring it to bear on the target (or not) and decide to shoot.

Remember: I said ideally. Given the role of instinct in matters of self-preservation, it’s entirely understandable if you either don’t think or don’t remember thinking before shooting to stop a lethal threat.

But one thing is for sure, if you shoot every time you clear leather or aim a gun at a gun range—which people do tens of thousands of times over decades— you’re most likely to shoot when you clear leather in a defensive gun use (DGU). Regardless of whether or not you should.

In other words, unless you practice aiming your gun and NOT shooting, chances are you’ll deny yourself one last chance to reconsider your decision to shoot another human being before you shoot another human being. So practice bringing your weapon to bear, finger off the trigger, aim and STOP.

I know: hesitation kills. But the fourth rule exists for a reason. Shooting the wrong person can be just as—if not more—devastating than not shooting the right person. Or not shooting at all when you should have. Or, for that matter, shooting the right person.

Hey, it all sucks. Train for every eventuality (e.g. the possibility that you ID an innocent at the last possible moment before pulling the trigger) and at least you have a chance of avoiding a tragedy that will haunt you for the rest of your life.

43 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Practice Not Shooting

  1. While I agree with the training idea and practice it myself, I don’t think it’s a proper recommendation for this story. A man receives a frantic call from his sister, goes to her house, finds a man wearing a ski mask who comes towards him with a knife, and kills him. Unless the kid was yelling “Dad! It’s me!” he had no indication that his life was not in imminent danger. There’s no way to train for this one.

    • I agree with Nathan on this one. Some mistakes can be made only once.

      I’ll put this forward: talk to your kids about your gun ownership and that you will take family threats seriously. To wit, scaring your little sister / aunt / etc. into thinking that you are a burglar is an exceptionally bad idea when there are armed good guys in the area. The police probably would have done the same thing, and no officer or father (or both) wants an incident like this on his conscience.

      Although my practice of not shooting certainly help me avoid shooting a kid who reached for a very realistic – looking airsoft gun. The ability of teenagers to reason often times underwhelming.

    • Doctrine: you always need to yell if you are in dark areas or blind corners so you don’t get shoot, like a battlefield, camping, or even in the house, maybe common sense is not so common this days. Sad

  2. Sounds like a lot of dumb was going on that night…
    What was the kid thinking? Im going to assume he knew his father was a gun owner, why charge at him with a knife, while wearing a ski mask? That just seems to be asking for something bad to happen IMO…
    And why would you be prowling around your aunts house wearing all black, a ski mask, and carrying a knife? Sounds suspicious even taken in the best way possible…

      • From the linked story: He confronted someone in a black ski mask and black clothing and opened fire when the person came at him with a knife, police said.

        “came at him with a knife=charged at with a knife right? Or close enough anyway…

  3. Very tragic story. What scares me the most is that if presented with the same circumstance I don’t know if I would have reacted any differently.

  4. 99% of us would shot this kid under the same circumstances. The other 1% would likely be stabbed. You just have to assume a masked intruder charging you with a knife isn’t just trying to scare you off. That said, I wonder how willing this kid would have been to charge a 12 gauge. It’s very likely he never saw the gun until it was too late.

  5. Lord, what a heart breaker. But we can never know what might have happened if dad had hesitated. What was in son’s mind. Not that long ago a son beat his parents to death with a hammer and left their bodies in their bedroom while he threw a party.

    Maybe son was tired of dad and aunt restricting his freedoms and had decided to do something about it.

    My heart goes out to dad on this one.

  6. “The calamity highlights the importance of the oft-neglected fourth rule of gun safety: identify your target, and what is behind it”
    — RIP.
    I think the shooter did identify his target; a figure wearing a mask coming at him with a knife in the dark. Could he have done more to identify without risking himself in hesitating if the threat was indeed real, I have no idea. Yes, I get your point to identify first as best you safely can.

    “You know as well as I do that daughters can let boyfriends sneak into the house”
    — Seems like nailing 2×4 boards across the bedroom windows of a teen daughter’s room might be a way to reduce the risk.

  7. From the reports in the story the father had no choice but to shoot. Most people have no idea the distance a man with a knife can cover while you un holster, aim and fire.

      • True. It is called “the 21 foot rule’. There are vids proving it how far and fast on youtube and elsewhere on the web. It is why I’m choosing the simple and fast to use snubbie for cc.

  8. You’re all overlooking the obvious: IF THE DAD DIDN’T HAVE A GUN, THE SON WOULD BE ALIVE TODAY. BAN ALL GUNS NOW. There. Now maybe MikeB will stay put.

    • In mikeB20300’s world Dad would either have a knife in him or the aunt would have had to face a masked knife wielding intruder alone. What does he care, he lives in Naples, that ultra safe city in Italy.

      • mikeB should try attending a Napoli game wearing Roma (or really, any opposing kit) kit. He’ll find out pretty quick how safe Naples is.

        • He lives in Rome, so it should be a Roma-Lazio derby, in the ultras section, decked out in the opponent’s colors.

  9. “You know as well as I do that daughters can let boyfriends sneak into the house, drunks can wander into the wrong place and police (yes them) can get the wrong address. Just because someone’s not where they should be doesn’t mean they’re a lethal threat.”

    Does..not…compute. Any armed man in the wrong place (my house, uninvited) is a lethal threat.

    • Well, I’ve actually had that little talk with my daughters, as well as my son. If I don’t know there are guests in the house there’s a risk. But I also have a taclight mounted on the shotgun for that last clear chance at ID before I pull the trigger.

      Of course in CA, I don’t think it would be legal for me to arm myself and go to someone else’s house to defend them. I think CA law would require calling the police and just listen to the screams of my neighbors dying while waiting for the police to show up.

      • Actually, as bad as California gun laws are we now have castle laws for inside the home. And California law says you can take your weapon out of the house if there is a deadly threat to another that you wish to defend.

        Now, do you want to be on the street in ca. with a gun when a swarm of cops show up in response to the man with a gun call?

      • While I can’t fault the father given the circumstances, a 2oo lumen light at the end of his gun might have helped avoid this – Dad might have recognized his son’s clothing. A blindingly bright light may have also incapacitated the attacker while maintaining a stand-off distance. But it’s hard to say what was going thru the kid’s mind.

  10. Seems that the problem started with “went outside to investigate”. If someone’s in the yard, I’m calling professionals to check it out. If they break into the house, that’s entirely different.

  11. This sounds like suicide-by-father. Rather than offing himself on his own, he chose to go out in a blaze of glory. I’m sure that the father here feels terrible, but at the moment, he saw a person wearing a mask coming at him with a knife. That’s well past the line of reasonable doubt. The father made the right, if horrible, decision.

    By the way, RF, thanks for using the word, tragedy, correctly. That warms the heart of this classicist.

    • “This sounds like suicide-by-father.”

      I had the same thought. In fact the son may have had two objectives:
      (1) suicide
      (2) make father feel extra horrible as revenge for some perceived wrong

  12. Having used a Gun twice in my 73 years on this planet, to stop emenent threat,
    (no shots fired) In a similar situation I would have fired a warning shot first, and if that didn’t stop the advance the second round would have been BODY MASS.

    • In a similar situation I would have fired a warning shot first

      In most jurisdictions, you’d be convicted of (at least) manslaughter.

      TTAG has covered the case of a woman in Florida who did give her ex-husband (or ex-boyfriend, I forget exactly) a warning shot. She got manslaughter. Mas Ayoob has recorded other cases documenting the same thing.

      Basically, if you aren’t afraid enough to kill them NOW, then you’re not afraid enough to shoot a gun at all. Your shot is legally an attack, and it ends your right to pure self-defense. The next shot might plea down to a manslaughter charge of some form, but you’re gonna pay.

      • Well, if you call it a warning shot you’re a fool, I’d just say I missed, or had an unintended discharge while grabbing my gun. But, yeah, warning shots are stupid.

      • The woman in Florida CLAIMED it was a warning shot. But the fact that she was aiming at his head and put a bullet in the ceiling behind him, plus the fact that no one bught the line that she could not exit the house from the garage, went all the way through the house, and shot at hubby in the living room, caused the jury to conclude that she was indeed trying to shoot him. That said, very few people who fire warning shots get off easy; most jurisdictions consider it to be an assault with a deadly weapon because if you have time to warn, you are not in imminent danger of bodily injury (so goes the prosecutorial logic).

    • Warning shot? Really? Were you ASLEEP during Harold Fish’s trial?!?

      A warning shot is a FELONY in Arizona.

      smh

  13. There was a story out of Garland (local news here), where a man’s home was invaded by three or four masked hoods, and at least one had a gun. After being robbed and other not so nice things, the hoods took off only to be arrested about fifteen minutes later. One of them was his teenage daughter, the fourth is still at large. Makes one think.

    http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.22.htm#22.02

    The father, however regrettably, acted correctly from the information we have. I have to agree, this seems like a suicide by _______(fill in the blank), and the father is the one that was unlucky enough to be the one there first.

  14. Good post Robert.
    +1 Agree on drilling,drilling, drilling scenarisos with “opportunity, intent, jeopardy” BEFORE putting finger to trigger. Too many courses dont address this, but its not new- read Ayoob.

    • Also from the article: Tyler’s biological mom, Tammy Binnette, 45, was in tears yesterday.

      “This is the second child I lost,” wailed Binnette, who in 1993 fell asleep behind the wheel of a car after smoking crack cocaine and slammed into a utility pole — killing her 21-month-old daughter, Mariah.

      Binnette’s extensive criminal history includes a prison stint for that fiery crash, which occurred when she was pregnant with Tyler’s older sister, Therese.

  15. While the father really had no choice based on the information, this does bring up the importance of “shoot, no shoot” drills.

    If you can get to a safe wooded area, you can set up sticks with paper plates for targets. Have a friend put big smile faces on some and mean faces on others while you are not looking. Then turn around (or uncover your eyes) and shoot the mean faces as fast as possible making sure not to shoot the happy faces. Or have your friend set out just one target that could be either a happy face or a mean face. When you turn, you have to decide whether to shoot or not shoot.

    If that isn’t practical, you could do something similar in your home with dry fire practice. You might even be able to do that in your back yard (dry fire practice).

  16. Something else to consider here — there’s always the chance that you may actually need to neutralize a threat posed by someone you know and perhaps even love. Family members, coworkers, neighbors, boyfriends, girlfriends, business associates, retail folk, etc., have been known to go off their nut and attack people they know. This would likely result in a classic, situational and potentially costly double-take somewhere within my OODA loop.

  17. What a sad, sad day for that family. I can only hope that they can get through this ordeal an remain a family. The kid’s biological mother sounds like she’s coming apart at the seams.

  18. There has got to be more to the story for something like this to happen the way it is described. Like a lot of stupid all around for a long time. Kid should have been taught that burglars get shot, sister should have hunkered down behind a locked door with her own gun and called the cops before calling her brother… if not gtfo, brother should have figured out where his family was and made sure they were safe before going for his sister (seeing as far as he knew there were criminals around).

  19. More than one adolescent child or young adult has suddenly, ‘gone berserk’ and murdered one or more of his family members.

    It happens! I wasn’t there; I don’t really know what happened; but, if the son remained masked and ran at his father with a bare blade in hand, as far as I’m concerned the kid committed suicide.

    Neither do I agree with the step-by-step process of: drawing; deciding to aim; and, then, deciding to fire. That might be good politics, good courtroom presentation, and entirely politically correct; but it’s, also, a really lousy way to attempt to stay alive in the middle of a CQB pistol gunfight. (This caveat, also, applies to knifers inside 30 feet, too.)

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