04-25-2005

By Nathan Reed

I will be turning 21 in a month and have decided to begin carrying concealed in my daily life. I know this is no small undertaking, and as such have been trying to nail down when I would engage, when I would draw, and when I would actually shoot. Over the past two years, this is what I have come up with . . .

I would only engage when a situation has become impossible to escape from. As with many other concealed carriers, I have decided that non-confrontation is best. To me, engagement does not necessarily mean drawing my weapon. If possible, talking down a non-violent confrontation would be best. If I sense that the situation is getting violent, I’d try to walk away. If not, then I move to step two.

Step two is drawing my weapon. Again, this is only done if I sense that a confrontation is getting violent. My hope in drawing is that the person will back down to where I can exit the situation. When I draw, I would immediately get distance between the other (if there wasn’t already distance) and me so that they cannot disarm me as easily. If they begin to close this distance is when I’d move on to step three.

Step three is the decision to shoot. If the person continues to close the distance and presents a threat to my life, then I will decide to shoot. If it comes to this, I honestly don’t even know if I’d be able to pull the trigger, but I’d have the tools necessary.

In a discussion in my political theory class last fall, we were discussing natural rights and when it is appropriate to take a life. The professor gave a real-life example of someone breaking into her house when she was home. A few people said that she automatically had the right to shoot the intruder. My response reflected my three-step system. I said that under the natural rights doctrine, one can only take the life of another if they are trying to take your life. Simply breaking into your house does not mean that they are a threat to your life. However if they were to advance upon you after you drew a gun, then they would be classified as a threat and deadly force would be justified.

Now that I have set up my system, I have to address the probability of using my weapon. I live in Wyoming where crime is low. The probability of using it is quite low. However, I moved here last fall from California. I was halfway between Stockton and Modesto, two cities that constantly rank on the worst places in America to live.

My city did its best to keep gangs out, but it did trickle over from time to time. My experiences there have taught me that it is better to have it and not need it then to need it and not have it (pretty cliché, I know). Here’s to hoping I don’t need it.

60 Responses to P320 Entry: Civilian Rules of Engagement

  1. Mr. Reed, you sound like you have sound principles concerning the use of you weapon.
    The only thing I can add is that you should practice often, especially a quick draw and shooting at extremely short ranges, with an unloaded gun at first. You don’t need a hole in your leg.

  2. TTAG helped get me hooked on DBD cartoon. I started at the beginning, read a decade in a few months, and have been keeping up ever since.

  3. Good way to outline the way your going to carry and how you’ve made up your mind on when and when not to use it.

  4. “My hope in drawing is that the person will back down to where I can exit the situation.”

    NEVER DRAW Unless you’re going to shoot and kill. Don’t try to intimidate your way out of a confrontation that you already plan to escalate further. SERIOUSLY

    • Meh… this is great in theory but in reality if you can get away without shooting someone and not get in trouble for “brandishing”, it’s a win in my book.

    • Never draw unless you’re going to shoot? BS
      An adversary is 21 ft away and has a knife out (sound familiar).
      He is not advancing yet.
      Are you saying you want to test the drill and wait for him to advance before you deploy?
      The credible threat is identified at a distance, then I would want to prepare and not fumble during a subsequent charge.
      The first step was to put your gun on your belt before you left home and your continuum is, if it comes out, it will be fired and it won’t come out till then?

      I agree if it is a gun at that distance because drawing your gun will draw fire and 21 feet gives you nothing. In that scenario drawing will force your hand.
      Don’t put in your head a hard and fast rule that does allow dynamic evaluation.

  5. Oh, other people are giving advice? I guess I should too.

    You’ve already determined that shooting someone is never a desirable outcome to a situation, but it is not as untenable as allowing that person to exert their will over you or a loved one (or maybe a stranger, idk your life).

    My advice is to find something you can do at home, safely, that doesn’t even involve putting on real pants or shoes. Dry fire with a penny on the front sight, doing reloads right in front of your face while keeping the “target” in sight, putting your sights on something and moving all 8 directions while keeping the sights in place … The easier it is to practice, the more often you will do it. Oh, and invest is snap caps.

    I may actually make a video about this.

    • “Other people are giving advice? I guess I should to”
      Don’t you realize the comment section of TTAG would collapse, if everybody stopped giving advice!

  6. You’ve obviously thought this through somewhat. My advice is don’t get too dogmatic about your approach, though. For example, you might find yourself in a building confrontation where it would be a good idea to have your gun in hand. Being about to draw covertly and have the gun in hand, but out of sight is a lot better than having to draw in a hurry if things go awry. You can always put the pistol away without actually firing it.

    My training (fairly extensive and from fairly noted trainers) has never relied on the presence of the gun to deescalate the situation. You only aim a gun at someone if you think you’re going to need to shoot – although it’s a huge bonus obviously if you don’t need to do so. If, when confronted by a handgun, your assailant changes his mind, that’s great. But you shouldn’t be drawing and pointing guns at people if you’re unsure that they need to be shot. This isn’t inconsistent with the first paragraph – there’s a difference between “covert ready” and a firing stance. Nor does it mean that you can’t draw some mental “lines in the sand” – e.g., “If this guy with the baseball bat comes within 21 feet, I’m firing….”

  7. There are videos on youtube of at least one guy shooting himself in the leg trying to practice a close contact shooting situation. I wonder if he tried dry firing first.

      • +1. If you haven’t researched the law in your own state,
        and the self-defense elements,
        and considered how you should conduct yourself before and after a shooting,
        as carefully as

        you have considered your choice of weapon, ammo, and spent time training on the range and drills for real world, then you could very easily find yourself in jail or losing $$$thousands in lawyer costs.

        Highly recommend Ayoob and Branca as a very good start.

  8. If someone breaks into my house, I probably won’t be talking him down if he intends to stay after he knows we are there. We’ll escalate right to the gun drawn stage to help his decision along. Actually, when he sees me for the first time, the gun will be drawn. At that point, if he retreats, no problem. If he advances, different story. If dome DB is breaking into my house, I get to assume he’s there to do my family or me harm.

  9. The law varies from state to state, you have everything from states where you must attempt to retreat before using force, to states that allow you to use force to stop a fleeing criminal.

    But if someone is breaking into your house and they don’t run the moment they see someone actually there, they aren’t there for a simple robbery.

  10. *Sigh*

    I miss Wyoming. I need to get back there this year. Where in Wyoming do you live?

    Your three step idea is a very good start. Allow me to add some color to your commentary?

    As for when to shoot during a home invasion, I say “It depends…” Every state has it’s own specific laws about that. They may even trump natural rights. Pay close attention to Wyoming’s laws.

    I’ll also point out that there are some violent situations that don’t call for you drawing your gun. A less lethal solution will work much better and leave you with less headache, and possibly heartache in the long run. When is that? “It depends…”

    Hopefully, a healthy dose of situational awareness will help you escape long before your escape routes are all closed off. Even mo’ bettah is to not be there in the first place. That may mean not going to specific places at all. It may mean seeing trouble coming down the pike and getting out of there *NOW.* “It depends…”

    I’m sensing a theme here… 😀

    • I’m in Laramie, going to school here. And you nailed it with “It depends.” I can’t predict every situation that would call for drawing, shooting, or even walking away.
      And you’re spot on with situational awareness. I like to think I have great awareness (at least better than the average person), but it still fails me sometimes. I am aware not only for danger, but also in my job, which is probably why I’m being trained as an assistant manager before people that have worked there longer than I have

      • “I like to think I have great awareness (at least better than the average person), but it still fails me sometimes.”

        To help make situational awareness a CONSTANT thing, try this. Every time your SA fails you (something gets past you that you should have seen sooner), give yourself a mental demerit. When your SA works really well (for example, when you see and react to some potential threat early), give yourself a mental attaboy. Keep score for a week or maybe a month. At the end of the week/month, you would want to have more attaboys than demerits. Over a period of a few weeks, you will probably see your scores improving as you become better at maintaining situational awareness continuously.

        Even after you have developed the habit of good SA, this little game also helps you keep maintaining a good level of SA, instead of falling off from neglect or complacency.

        • Thanks for the advice. I started developing SA in scouts because my scoutmaster would always tell us to keep our heads up while hiking to take in the scenery and watch our surroundings (my dad and I encountered a bobcat at 1am when we were catching up to our troop. Story for another day). Then in high school I was in Junior ROTC. Our instructor would always make it a point to teach us SA on our weekend getaways. Then came driving. Always checking mirrors and observing the driving habits of others is how I avoid stupid drivers. Then my last job, when I’d take out trash to the back I’d have to watch for bums, who were usually drunk or on meth. Never met a pleasant hobo in my hometown. And now being involved with the gun community has made me reach a new level in SA, but there’s still room for improvement

  11. Well done article, you’ve obviously put thought into this which is more than many people do. I do have some advice. In Step 3 you said, “I honestly don’t even know if I’d be able to pull the trigger, but I’d have the tools necessary.” Before making the decision to carry a firearm you must make the decision whether you can pull that trigger or not. If you don’t think you can actually take a life to save yourself or a loved one from imminent death or serious bodily injury then don’t carry a firearm. Buy a taser and/or pepper spray, and get training in using them, take self defense classes, etc. Carrying a firearm isn’t for everyone.

  12. Guns make people feel safe. This can be a bad thing, because people think they can rescue themselves from danger and therefore have no reason to fear or avoid it. No one wants to be scared, but carrying should change your mindset. Like crossing the street to avoid potential violence. Does this mean being scared? No. It means realizing how easily violence can end a life and respecting it.

  13. “What, then, is the ‘combat mind-set?’ It is that state of mind which insures victory in a gunfight. It is composed of awareness, anticipation, concentration and coolness. Above all, its essence is self-control. Dexterity and marksmanship are prerequisite to confidence, and confidence is prerequisite to self-control.” – Jeff Cooper, “The Combat Mindset”

    You’re off to a good start by virtue of actually having thought about this…I’d wager that most others haven’t.

    • I’d agree that having thought it through, preferably many times with many variables is quite useful. After that having the tools available to do it with are pretty important too. My one concern is that I don’t hear enough of a willingness to actually shoot. The motion of a draw stroke and presentation of a gun, if done suddenly and obviously tell the other guy everything they need to know, you’re about to shoot them. If you’re at the point of the draw and their reaction to it isn’t immediate and spontaneous surrender or flight, you actually have to be willing to shoot them, right there, right then. Otherwise you’ve only introduced a dangerous weapon into a bad situation. If you’re not sure of the volition, the means mean nothing. Really think about it, is your life worth more than theirs, and are you willing to take theirs to save yours. If you’re answer is other than yes, some more philosophy might serve you better than a gun.

      • I should have clarified it more, but once I draw, I have made the determination that they are a threat. The differentiation between step 2 and 3 is that I hope they would back down. If they don’t then I’d clear myself to pull the trigger. The time lapsed between the two steps can be a few seconds to damn near instantaneous

  14. Keep that mindset up and keep on practicing, the more it’s muscle memory the better. It’s an unreal feeling the first time you have your sights lined up on a living person, and come to mention it every subsequent time after that, but you’ll revert to your training.

  15. Nathan, there’s nothing wrong with your plan — but it may not survive first contact. Bad things sometimes happen faster than plans.

  16. “Step two is drawing my weapon. Again, this is only done if I sense that a confrontation is getting violent.” — Nathan Reed

    Assuming that “drawing my weapon” means taking it out of its holster and pointing it at the attacker, I am drawing attention to the same theme as Roger’s comment above. You are NOT, let me repeat, NOT legally justified to draw a firearm and point it at someone if you “sense that a confrontation is getting violent”. I highlighted the key words. Sensing that someone is getting closer to violent is not sufficient. You draw and point at an attacker when an average person reasonably believes that death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault are imminent, and imminent means imminent.

    And keep in mind that death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault are only possible if the attacker is even strength/stature or has a weapon. In other words a frail 90 year old man who has no weapon and states that he is going to kill you with his bare hands is not an imminent threat of great bodily harm … because you (a fit 20 year old) should have no trouble fending him off with your hands and feet.

  17. I think you need to sort out your step 2 and 3. You don’t draw, or even SHOW your weapon, unless there is an immediate threat of grave injury or death. If you draw your weapon before that, you are “brandishing.” If you’re in your home and your state has castle law, it’s a different story. If the circumstances of step 3 occur, then you draw, and you only draw if you’re prepared to shoot. In other words, I would not separate drawing with the decision to shoot. Massad Ayoob’s books are the ones to read, particularly In the Gravest Extreme.

    • Again, Bull Shit, not just BS
      So are you saying that when you see a situation developing, you will wait until your draw must be made in the midst of an adrenaline dump?
      From concealment, it will never snag on you cover shirt, you safety sweep will be smooth etc.?
      Oh, I see, you must be Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens.
      There may be time if available, where you can get all that tricky stuff done when calm and be at the low ready or even concealed behind your thigh, if and before the situation deteriorates, not after.

  18. Carrying doesn’t mean you don’t take shit, it means you take a lot. And run away from it. And only send lead if the shit hits the fan.

    Because if we have learned anything the past few years it’s this: Only anointed public employees can get away with shooting others, the rest of us face judicial torture and back bench review of our actions. One mistake in the process and you’re toast. But it’s better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.

    • Even now I take a lot of shit. Well, not really. I stay out of people’s business and they stay out of mine. I’m an introvert and avoid even the most simple conflict. I even played hockey for years and never fought. Put plenty of people of varying sizes to the floor, but never fought.

  19. “If it comes to this, I honestly don’t even know if I’d be able to pull the trigger, but I’d have the tools necessary.”

    I respectfully offer that if you don’t know if you would be able to pull the trigger then you do not yet have the most important tool necessary to carry. You need to study carefully the rules-of-engagement for self defense; and, you are well on your way based upon your posting. If you reach the stage – a process that takes place in seconds – that you must shoot then you must shoot. If you don’t know whether you will be able to shoot then the perpetrator will probably sense this. At that point, you are in over your head. He must proceed to kill you; your bluff probably won’t work.

    Until you have made the grave decision that you could and would shoot you should consider your carry no more than a bluff; one which may be more dangerous than going unarmed.

  20. “Unless the threat backs down.”

    No. You should not ever think of your gun as a magical intimidation machine. If you pull it use it. No ifs.

    • Roger, you are right, but Nathan has it right too.

      When you start drawing your gun you should be expecting to use it, because the threat is imminent at that moment. However, as often happens, the bad guy may see the gun being drawn and back down before you start pulling the trigger. In that case, you better NOT shoot him, unless you want to go to jail for shooting someone who was not threatening you. The point that Nathan is very clear on is that the situation can change between starting to draw and pulling the trigger.

      This brings up a problem with the training many people get. When they draw their gun, they always shoot at the target. They practice over and over again, drawing and always shooting. So what happens if the assailant stops threatening you, or if you realize that the black thing in his hand is a cell phone, not a gun? Do you shoot him anyway, because that is the only thing your ‘muscle memory’ knows how to do? (Your brain said stop, but your muscles kept going through the trained motions.) Or have you trained yourself to continue assessing the situation as you are drawing and trained to NOT shoot sometimes?

    • This is absurd. Your firearm is not a mystical sword that must taste blood before being reholstered. While you should be prepared to use a firearm upon drawing it to end an threat, if you are drawing at a point where you must immediately and irrevocably fire you have placed yourself at a huge tactical disadvantage for no reason. It sounds like you’ve been listening to some range ninjas with an internet degree in law.

  21. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of a 20 year old when there are so many thoughtless morons out there at every age. Especially when life has been so devalued. It is so unlikely that we, as individuals, will ever need to pull a firearm, but I am always grateful to hear of more responsible Americans are carrying. There are so many variables that would bring me to the point of pulling or shooting my gun at a human that it’s nearly impossible to say when I would. Thankfully, I’ve not needed to, but I think my gut would be my final decision-maker. I know the laws, I know the training and I’m sure my reactions would be true in a bad situation.
    Great posting, Nathan and very helpful responses to consider from everybody else.

  22. Good read. Glad you thought it out. He’s what you need to do: TAKE A QUALITY CLASS FROM A PROFESSIONAL INSTRUCTOR. The importance of professional and relevant training can not be stressed enough, especially for the CCW community. Do not “fire and forget” when it comes to training. You need to take a class and learn not only shooting skills but the proper understanding of LEGAL self defense. This comes from exposure and study of criminal behavior and the law to recognize potentially situations. You wan to have MANY options for solving the immediate problem. Be sure to attend at minimum one class per year. Even if to recover leaned skills and brush up on the law. Lastly, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER visit New York City or any other Yankee state except NH.

  23. Not bad philosophy with one exception. If your unsure if you are able to pull the trigger don’t carry. It’s not for everyone.

  24. My rules of engagement in my home are the Castle Doctrine –

    “FL s. 776.012 – a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
    (2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

    ……776.013 (1)(a)….. in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, ”

    – ‘NOUGH SAID!!

    • I’m not faulting you for your personal Rules Of Engagement (Really I’m not), but some of us have ROG that are slightly more restrictive, because of the way we were raised and having to live with ourselves after a DGU. I personally could not live with myself, if I could prevent shooting the bad guy without endangering myself or others, but I didn’t try.

      If I was the victim of a home invasion and the bad guy(s) was in another part of the house from me, I would yell out a warning to them.
      “I have a gun. You can leave now and live, or stay and die. Leave NOW!”
      99% of criminals will leave as fast as they can run. And then I don’t have to go through all the post-DGU hassles, including the emotional toil from having killed someone.

      • This is exactly why I would not immediately pull the trigger.Taking life is a serious matter; if I can avoid it I will

  25. If a thief is caught by the owner of a home, and is struck in such a way that he dies, the owner shall feel no blood guilt. -forget what exact scripture.

  26. “However if they were to advance upon you after you drew a gun, then they would be classified as a threat and deadly force would be justified”

    So… someone who advances on an unarmed person is not a threat?

    I think your teacher’s argument was more coherent.

    • Either you don’t understand what I said or you’re trolling. Of course someone can be a threat to an unarmed person. What I was saying is that if the gun is presented and they back off, they are not a threat. If the gun is presented and they continue to advance, then they are still a threat. And the teacher did not have an argument. She merely presented a situation for us to debate

  27. Good luck racing through your three step program at zero dark scared crapless, when a window’s just crashed to shards, an unknown assailant(s) stand in your bedroom and your blood is 80 proof adrenaline. I’d recommend you putting off owning, let alone carrying, a firearm until you have a few more years of life experience and have seen some reality. Wouldn’t want you to get hurt.

  28. Nathan, This is a well written article and a viable plan. There are infinite variables that can create a life and death situation and you have reasoned through how you will handle a particular situation should it arise. You are considering not only your welfare but that of the potential assailant. Some people wouldn’t do that. It could cost you your life or it could prevent the unnecessary loss of life. Ultimately you have to live with yourself so stick to your guns.

  29. I have gone down a “thought-path” on the use of force wrt Ccw. I arrived at this conclusion: you must decide to kill someone. There it is. No dancin’ around it. In most cases, this person is unknown to the Ccw holder and it is not personal. The person’s actions must fit into a very narrowly defined situation described by law. Nonetheless, have you come to grips with that fact? You have already decided to kill someone.

  30. Well, if you suspect the other person might be armed, an understanding of how fast things will happen and the problem in being behind the other guy in the decision cycle (OODA loop) is helpful. Action beats reaction.

    http://www.forcescience.org/demos.html

    Just realize the times are skewed in the officer’s favor in the demo. Subjects were college students unfamiliar with firearms, so they were probably slower than experienced folks. Officers were simply responding to light/sound signals vice making complicated scenario decisions so their reaction times were probably faster than in a real situation.

  31. Simply breaking into your house does not mean that they are a threat to your life.

    …And i’m not going to take the time to find out.

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