The Myth of the Confused First Responder

Among the many imagined scenarios for those who object to arming citizens in facilities attractive to spree killers is first responders not knowing the good guy from the bad guy. This is indeed possible, but like most of the objections raised by promoters of gun free zones, unlikely. Here’s why . . .

The “first” in the term first responder doesn’t mean fast. Under the best of circumstances, cops are minutes away when seconds count. If an armed citizen is able to confront the killer, the more likely scenario is that they’ll end the threat. The killer might surrender, commit suicide or be disabled by the defender. Defensive gun uses happen every day and reports good guys being hurt by the police are rare. The good guy may spend some time in handcuffs until the cops sort things out, but that’s not the same as being mistaken for a BG and shot. In fact, over the last several years, the only people I am aware of who were shot unintentionally by cops are innocent bystanders.

No matter what you may think, cops don’t normally just blunder into a situation. They scope things out and are adept enough at assessing threats, typically erring on the side of caution. Cops are trained to demand compliance with verbal commands like “drop the gun” before engaging in lethal action. The defender will most likely quickly comply. If the killer won’t drop it like it’s hot, the cops will know who to air out – it’s the guy who didn’t drop his gun. Tense, Pulp Fiction style three-way confrontations between nervous gunmen aren’t the norm.

Given that there are plenty of defensive gun uses in America by armed citizens in which the bad guy is repelled and the cops don’t ventilate the good guy, the myth of the confused first responder has virtually no basis in fact or statistics. As our nation considers whether or not to eliminate gun-free zones in places like schools and shopping malls, this is just another unfounded concern we can dispense with.

44 Responses to The Myth of the Confused First Responder

  1. avatarmatt says:

    I always thought cops yelled ‘freeze’ just so that they didnt have to shoot at a moving target.

    • avatarmatt says:

      cops are trained to demand compliance with verbal commands like “drop the gun” before engaging in lethal action. The defender will most likely quickly comply. If the killer won’t drop it like it’s hot, the cops will know who to air out – it’s the guy who didn’t drop his gun.

      So the cops should shoot the guy who is exercising his 2A right to bear arms?

      • avatarmatt says:

        So can you tell me what shoe polish and leather tastes like?

        You’re presuming in your article that the police have a magical ability to determine who is the legal civilian exercising their right to bear arms and self defense, and who is a criminal.

        • avatarSid says:

          No, Matt. You are confusing cops shooting home owners with cops responding to active shooter situations.

          By the time first responders arrive at a homicidal rampage, it is too late to stop the shooter. If a responsible citizen used their weapon to end the situation, then police are going to have a different response. 911 tries to stay on the phone with the caller for that very reason. To keep up-to-date information flowing to the responders.

          I consider it a tragedy when innocent citizens are killed or harmed by law enforcement officers. But spending a few moments in cuffs while the police validate your identity is a small inconvenience compared to stopping a killing spree.

        • avatarmatt says:

          You are confusing cops shooting home owners with cops responding to active shooter situations.
          How are the police going to know it was a civilian DGU and not a active shooter?

          . If a responsible citizen used their weapon to end the situation, then police are going to have a different response.
          How are the police going to know that a civilian stopped the active shooter? And according to plenty of other articles, they will not have a different response, they will engage in extra judicial executions of anyone exercising their 2A rights.
          http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2012/12/robert-farago/why-you-shouldnt-engage-an-active-shooter-and-what-to-do-if-you-do/

          By the time first responders arrive at a homicidal rampage, it is too late to stop the shooter…But spending a few moments in cuffs while the police validate your identity is a small inconvenience compared to stopping a killing spree.
          Those two statements contradict each other. Which one is it?

        • avatarSid says:

          Switch to decaf. The statements are not contradictory. If you shoot a person on a homicidal rampage, then it will be over before the police arrive. Depending on the jurisdiction you live in, you may be temporarily detained, arrested, or secluded. Because before the police can let you go home, they have to ascertain that you did the right thing. It takes more than a few moments to gather witness statements, review video tapes, and secure a crime scene. But if you decide not to intervene, then more innocent lives may be lost forever.

          The police will know it is a DGU because the dead guy will be laying on the ground dead and you will wisely not be pointing your gun at anyone. I would suggest holstering it or returning it to your concealed carry location. Some would say place it on a desk or counter surface in clear view and away from your hands. You have to make that call. But the police will have to recognize a teacher from a crazed gunman, a veteran from a disgruntled ex-employee,.

          As to your accusation that police will execute a DGU person, crack is a dangerous drug and I wish you would consider entering a substance abuse program. Yes, you can cite high profile SNAFUs. But most Catholic priests did NOT molest children. Damn few employees of the US Postal Service have injured or killed fellow employees. And Viet Nam was NOT one long pot party punctuated by the burning of thatched roof villages. Most cops try to do the right thing every time. There is an asshole in Canton, OH, and every town in America. But the rank and file try to protect and serve. If they arrive at the local elementary and a bad guy is laying on the ground leaking body fluids, I am willing to bet the house that they will not arrest the science teacher for stopping him with a legally owned firearm. A local veteran or off-duty police officer will probably have to answer some hard questions during a lengthy debriefing at the police station when he ends a rampage with a well-aimed shot. But the police are not looking to rush into a scene and shoot everyone with a gun. The recent mall shooting was stopped by a CCW holder and he was not executed at scene.

          Grow up.

        • avatarmatt says:

          Because before the police can let you go home, they have to ascertain that you did the right thing.
          They could always arrest you later if they determine you commited a crime. Detaining you simply because they are unsure if you commited a crime is inherently unreasonable.

          But the police will have to recognize a teacher from a crazed gunman, a veteran from a disgruntled ex-employee,.
          They all too often do not do this, google police shoot homeowner

          . Most cops try to do the right thing every time.
          If you read cop blogs, they typically say their #1 priority is going home at the end of the day. If they see someone with a gun, they will assume they are a direct threat.

          Also jurys have determined time and time again there are codes of silence in police departments, to protect officers who did not do the right thing. Most recently in the Anthony Abatte trial in Chicago, where a drunk CPD officer brutally beat a bartender.

          But the rank and file try to protect and serve.
          The interests of the politicians. The courts have upheld time and time again that they have no responsibility to protect people, see Castle Rock v Gonzales. They are Law ENFORCEMENT Officers, not body guards.

          But the police are not looking to rush into a scene and shoot everyone with a gun. The recent mall shooting was stopped by a CCW holder and he was not executed at scene.

          You offer a single example, I offered thousands when I said to google police shoot home owner.

        • avatartheaton says:

          Matt, there were CCW holders at the shooting in Tuscon. There was a CCW holder at the Church incident in CO. There was an off duty sheriff at the recent theatre incident, in TX if I remember correctly. All are still alive.

        • avatarfred says:

          Ouch. Thats going to leave a mark.

          Matt- hey. Fwiw, I am starting to see your posts and avoid them.

          Sometimes you seem reasonable and argue from fact, other times you toss out something completely off-the-wall, like
          “extra judicial executions of anyone exercising their 2A rights”,

          and you discredit yourself and the point you are trying to make.

        • avatarmatt says:

          I dont care if you avoid my comments.

          Can you explain how incidents such as this are not extra-judicial executions of people exercising their 2A right to bear arms?
          http://rt.com/usa/news/florida-man-police-kill-325/

          Execution is defined as
          ex·e·cu·tion noun \ˌek-si-ˈkyü-shən\
          1
          : the act or process of executing : performance
          2
          : a putting to death especially as a legal penalty
          3
          : the process of enforcing a legal judgment (as against a debtor); also : a judicial writ directing such enforcement
          4
          : the act or mode or result of performance
          5
          archaic : effective or destructive action —usually used with do

          http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/execution

        • avatartheaton says:

          In most DGUs, the police show up well after the violence has ceased. I doubt the person exercising their right to bear arms will still be holding their firearm. It will be back in it’s holster and concealed.

      • avatarmatt says:

        Take for instance this incident
        http://www.policemisconduct.net/after-knocking-wrong-door-police-shoot-homeowner/

        Or this
        http://www.courthousenews.com/2009/09/23/Family_Says_911_Tape_Caught_Cops_Planning_Cover-Up_After_Shooting.htm

        Just google for police shoot home owner and you’ll find countless stories where they have shot people exercising their 2A rights.

      • avatarNathan says:

        No matt, the cops should shoot the guy who isn’t smart enough to figure out that when shots have been fired and the cops have just arrived on the scene, you better damn well do exactly what they say or you will have some extra orifices. Consider it a type of Darwin award.

        Besides, if you are holding a gun in your hand and it is not being used to defend yourself, that’s called brandishing and your 2A rights do not give you the freedom to break the law.

    • avatarRandy Drescher says:

      Yeah, thats like the fireman sinking the ax in the door & then knocking to see if someone’s home, Randy

  2. avatarRandy Drescher says:

    You can bet your ass that after a gun defense situation I wouldn’t be standing around with a gun in my hand. The grabbers have a lot of myth’s, not just this one, Randy

    • avatartheaton says:

      The grabbers know that people get most of their gun information from movies. They use the ignorance of the population to fruther their agenda.

  3. avatarTaurus609 says:

    Great article Tim, good to see you back!

  4. avatarTTACer says:

    Despite what the fine programming on Ion TV would have you believe, cops, nor indeed any first responders, do not rush into anything.

  5. avatarRydak says:

    Agreed with everything, except for one notion. First responders (LE) to an active shooter are NOW trained to shoot anyone or anything with a gun without verbal commands. IE: Stop the threat. Not the prettiest of responses, but considering LE’s total failure in Columbine and others…they have been taught this response ever since those lessons were painfully learned.

    • avatarmatt says:

      Unfortunately they shoot far more innocent people than spree killers ever do. Just google police shoot home owner.

    • avatarSid says:

      I am not saying you are wrong. But your blanket statement about first responders being trained to shoot anyone without verbal commands needs to be walked back.

      Active Shooter training is not standardized in the US. The many various LEs that I serve with have attended several different training programs and events. But the knowledge gained there still has to be adapted to the local jurisdiction. The local chief of police, sheriff. SWAT team leader, state polic commandant, etc…. has to approve any tactic that will be used. He/she has to give the team left and right limits.

      I would be very hesitant to believe that a professional LE executive gave instructions to first responders to rush a scene and shoot anyone with a gun. As was the case in Pearl, MS, the person holding the killer at gun point was the vice principal of the school.

      • avatarmatt says:

        See RightAreYouKen’s comment below, or this article
        http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2012/11/robert-farago/self-defense-tip-how-not-to-shoot-an-off-duty-cop/

        It was very concerning to find that within the first 20 scenarios, due to the stress of the responders looking for unknown multiple armed adversaries, our PC [Plain Clothes Police] role players were misidentified as suspects and fired on an estimated 95% of the time without first being challenged. Their badges were not seen. When we changed the PC officers’ positions slightly so their badges would be more visible, we found that they still were not readily identified and still were consistently fired upon by first responders.

  6. avatardaveR says:

    “This is indeed possible, but like most of the objections raised by promoters of gun free zones, unlikely. Here’s why . . .
    The “first” in the term first responder doesn’t mean fast.”

    Some people may argue that but not me. I’m not really worried about the cops b/c they’ll probably be (too) late.

    The real risk comes from TWO or more CHP holders not knowing the good guys from the bad guys. If you don’t see EVERYthing you might mistake a fellow CHP-holder from an “active shooter” Since tunnel vision is the default response, I think that it would be likely that two good guys would get involved in a firefight of their own.

    Is CHP and free carry worth the risk? Yes. But many of the posts here and elsewhere are so gung-ho and optimistic, that they discourage caution.

    Prudence, caution and training should be our watch words and too little of the postings here convey that.

    • avatarChuckN says:

      I can see this happening if a good guy did not fire
      and was holding the shooter at gun point.
      Makes it look like a possible hostage situation.

  7. avatarRightYouAreKen says:

    Wait, what? What about this article?

    http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2012/11/robert-farago/self-defense-tip-how-not-to-shoot-an-off-duty-cop/

    “It was very concerning to find that within the first 20 scenarios, due to the stress of the responders looking for unknown multiple armed adversaries, our PC role players were misidentified as suspects and fired on an estimated 95% of the time without first being challenged. Their badges were not seen. When we changed the PC officers’ positions slightly so their badges would be more visible, we found that they still were not readily identified and still were consistently fired upon by first responders.”

  8. avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    The canards by the hoplophobes never cease to amuse me.

    First, I can tell by reading cop blogs and discussion groups (and talking with a few cops) that law enforcement in CCW states have thought about this scenario – at least the officers on patrol have. The appointed political butt-kissers might not be wanting to discuss this, but the guys who roll up on a situation appear (to me, at least) to have been carrying on “what if’s?” on the “we respond to a situation and there’s a law-abiding citizen in the middle of the furball” issue. That’s not saying that everything will or would always work out perfectly, since all the planning in the world tends to go out the window with the shots start flying.

    On the flip side, lots of CCW people have been thinking about and discussing their side of this issue as well.

    The henny-penny lobby would have everyone (and especially policy makers) think that the people who actually matter in these situations (ie, the cops and the CCW carriers) just sit around, with one thumb in their mouth, the other in their butt, waiting for the policy makers to tell us when to switch. The anti-gun lobby can’t seem to understand that both groups (LE & CCW) have been pondering and working on solving this situation (and others) for years now. It never occurs to them that policy makers could just issue a recommendation to both groups “You guys come up with something fairly standard in recommendations and promulgate it. Problem mostly solved, and mostly solved here is a huge improvement over what we have now.”

    So to the anti-gun lobbies: Go sit down with your linen hankies, your worry beads and a nice hot cup of STFU. Adults are already working on this issue and have been for years.

  9. avatarDale says:

    I’ve known a lot of law enforcement over the years and the overwhelming attitude I’ve seen was…

    Scope the situation and then move in, EVERYONE present goes on the floor/into cuffs and THEN we’ll sort it all out. Non compliance gets dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

  10. avatartdiinva says:

    I hate the term “first responder.” It is a term that consigns you to victim status whether it’s and accident, fire, natural disaster or a “man-caused disaster. You are the person on the scene when the incident happens and yes sometimes the only thing you can do is dial 911. However, if there is something you can do to help then you go help. On 9-11 Secretary Rumsfeld ended holding a bag of plasma for a injured person. If the Secretary of Defense can help so can you. The first responder is the guy/gal on point — that means you.

    • avataruncommon_sense says:

      +1000!

      I am glad to see someone else say this. I have harped on this from time to time as well.

    • avatartheaton says:

      Good luck getting that idea through the ego of a cop or firefighter.

      • avatarScott D. says:

        Be careful casting that net over all of us. As a firefighter, some of the best information we receive is from “first responders” such as neighbors, passer-bys, and witnesses. It sure is nice hear from a neighbor that the reason why there are two cars in the driveway as a house burns, is that the residents are on vacation in Bora Bora, and not sleeping in an upstairs bedroom. It is a term that people have assigned to the ones who get “called” first. In an active shooter situation, cops are “second responders”, at best. Ego be damned.

        • avatartheaton says:

          I cast a wide net because I see dozens of cops in some kind of trouble with the law everday. Maybe less for the firefighers but still above the rate for average citizens. Albuquerque, NM cops are under investigation by the DOJ (yes, pot and kettle reference) for shooting first and asking quesitons later and no their under investigation for steroid use. This is not a unique situation. The government is not your friend.

    • avatarTim McNabb says:

      “I hate the term “first responder.” ”

      I do to, it’s another damn sissified term, but I chose it because it is all the rage. At some point you need to be speaking the language the non-adroit understand.

  11. avatarJustAJ says:

    I don’t think the article is saying it *can’t* happen, just that it is not “guaranteed gonna happen” that the antis present as counter point to arguing how a CCW can help in an active shooter scenario. As I recall, we had a really good discussion about this not too long ago. Personally (assuming I could actually get a CCW), if I were in a position to take action and stop a shooter (given the proper circumstances), I would absolutely do so. The sequence would be something like this:

    Stop the threat if at all possible
    Once confirmed (dead or disabled and disarmed) put my gun away
    Call 911 to report the shooter down with full description of them and me (I’m the OFWG!)
    Make sure I am not in the shooter’s immediate reach, or in reach of any weapons
    Keep my hands in plain sight

    It’s hard to be exact since this is only a theoretical exercise, but as someone else pointed out – it’s clearly beyond the antis thinking that we would even ponder what to do in these situations. Unless you talk about how they view us as crazed people, salivating over the chance to shoot someone under SYG laws.

  12. avatarAccur81 says:

    When I wrote “Thoughts on Engaging an Active Shooter,” I partially addressed this issue. I train, and have been trained, to differentiate targets. It is true that active shooter training has not been standardized. The lawful CCW carrier, as well as the off duty LEO, need to be mindful of responding personnel. All shooters, everywhere, must evaluate their targets and threats prior to employing deadly force.

    Engaging an active shooter, whether in uniform or not, is risky business. Each responder brings a different set of skills to the table, and people do make mistakes under stressfull situations.

    Most of the LEOs I know don’t respond slowly – we haul ass. I “slow” immediately prior to engaging an incident so that my response is appropriate, and does not make the situation worse. I need to stop the bad guys without harming the good guys. Smooth is fast.

    The bottom line is that I believe in legal concealed carry. The CCW holder in the Clackamass mall shooting helped stop the active shooter without firing a single round. That man did a fantastic job, and set a heroic precedent. Disarming the lawful citizen can and will result in more bloodshed. We must continue to fight against disarmament and the failed concept of the “gun free zone.”

  13. avatarMark says:

    Sequence of events matters. FIRST, you take care of business, THEN re-holster and call professional law enforcement to come and do the interviews and paperwork.

  14. avatartheaton says:

    It appears we have many hoplophobes who also own firearms. People have allowed themselves to be turned into sheeple by, public education, the media and the powers that be.

  15. avatarLance says:

    Id trust more CCW carriers to make a percise shot to end a fight, cops spray more bullets and are far less reliable. Good Post.

  16. avatarLow Budget Dave says:

    When the shooting starts, experienced gun owners know not to draw until they can tell what is going on. Inexperienced gun owners don’t.

    The more people carrying guns, the more likely you are to end up in a shootout with an inexperienced gun owner.

    • avatartheaton says:

      Hey dave, I’m sure you have the data to back up your assertions? You either don’t own a firearm or you do and your ego is bigger than Texas.

  17. avatarSanchanim says:

    Don’t forget the innocent puppies cops kill. We shouldn’t forget the puppies!

  18. avatarRich says:

    If second responders (cops) need AR’s we as first responderssure as hell need AR’s.

  19. avatarkenneth says:

    Why are criminals called “BAD GUYS” ? A bad guy is some one who cheats on his girl friend with his ex wife. Someone who robs, rapes, or kills someone is a criminal.

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