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Yesterday, I said I thought it was a good idea to carry a BUG (Back-Up Gun) so you could arm a friend in a self-defense situation. Apparently not. Commentator A. Lee set me straight:

A secondary gun to give to out in a self-defense situation? Oh man…what a legal can-of-worms that would be.

In general, self-defense shootings can only be justified under two conditions. One, that you have reasonably perceived that your life or that of a close concern is in immediate danger. Two, that you have no reasonably obvious way to exit the situation. In assessing both of those conditions, the key is “reasonably” – the self-defender is in a high-stress situation, and does not have much time to make a decision. You generally will be given some margin-of-error.

If you have the time and presence-of-mind to give a handgun to a bystander, then your case for immediate danger is weakened, and most likely your case for inability to exit danger. Unless you’re in a hostage-type situation, if you have the time and opportunity to hand a gun to a stranger, you have the time and opportunity to run away. Finally, I don’t think you’ll get much benefit of the doubt if you somehow have the wits to start arming strangers in what is supposed to be a life-or-death self-defense situation (Three, three, three, remember?). So that’s the first problem.

The second problem is that you’ve given a gun to someone of unknown quality, and you are now at least partially liable for their actions. All CCW-holders have, inevitably, mentally rehearsed their shoot-don’t-shoot decision matrix. CCW-holders are a self-selecting group that have made the moral decision that it is justified to kill an assailant to save your own life. The average person may not have hardened their mind for that scenario, and they may not come to the same answer. And finally, they might be terrible at shooting, muzzle control, and trigger control. Who’s responsible then?

It might sound good in movies, where the good guys are being held in the bank vault while the bad guys are negotiating ransom with the cops, and they forgot to search the hero, and he has two guns, one which he gives to the attractive bank manager in a pencil skirt…but in real-life, that’s crazy talk.

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  1. While I do not carry a back up specifically to give to someone else, I do not oppose the idea depending on the person and the situation. I know many people who shoot, yet unfortunately, do not carry. I can certainly paint a picture where there is enough time to give a handgun to a third party yet still be justified in using it.

      • Yesterday my buddy and I left his house to go run some errands. He had just returned from a week in Mexico for work and left the house without his gun. Fortunatly for him, I had an identical spare in my pocket. Problem solved.

        As I mentioned in my post about BUGs, sometimes our competent friends and family forget or don’t carry. That doesn’t mean that you can’t leave your BUG in the car with your spouse and sleeping child while you go inside to pay for gas.

        You didn’t really drop the ball, you just went a little overboard with sharing the love.haha.

  2. Oh fine. So I didn’t blow it. This blogging stuff is harder than it looks. It does look hard, doesn’t it? (Said the bishop to the actress.)

  3. You and a close friend / shooting partner that you have trained with, go to the range with, etc. are out one night and TSHTF. Unfortunately your friend was working in a firearms prohibited zone. Do you hold on to your backup, or employ your friend as a force multiplier?

    You decide.

  4. Ayoob has discussed this issue in the past from the perspective of an LEO arming a civilian in time of need (Something he approves of if certain conditions are met). I’d be curious to hear if he endorses the same plan for a civilian caught up in a situation like VT or other incidents.

    Personally if I knew them and knew they were competent and we had no way out you better believe they’d get my BUG.

  5. Kojak tells his partner “If someone asks where you got [this shotgun], tell them you found it on the road.” I always thought that was silly.

    Most of the time, I can see where it would be D-U-M-M dumb to hand over the back-up to a third party. However, that small sliver of times, there are times when you’ll need someone at your back or providing cover while moving. There are certainly some people I would be willing to hand over to in a heartbeat, and others I’d never trust in a million years.

  6. This guy ignores Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws. Some legislatures (I’ll find which states later) actually discouraged retreat in the event of an attack in debates, because the assailant could move on to attack others if you didn’t retaliate.

  7. There’s no correct resolution to this issue because there are too many variables that haven’t been accounted for. In the end, should such a situation arise, the only thing we can do is exercise our best judgment and act accordingly. What happens after that may be beyond our control.

    The only fool-proof way of avoiding prosecution is to stand around, do nothing and get shot or cut open like a cantaloupe. So, in a real SD situation, our first thought must be “how do I get out of this with all my body parts intact,” and not “how do I avoid prosecution.” The latter kind of thinking is very likely to get us killed through paralysis by analysis.

  8. And don’t forget that in addition to “self-defense” scenarios, in some states (Florida), it is permissible to shoot to prevent “the imminent commission of a forcible felony”. Forcible felonies include burglary. Paint your own scenario.

    • It’s a shame that Florida is a complete fuck-up in almost every other sphere of public policy and law. 🙁

  9. TTAC, thanks for the post.

    As per the comments below, I can construct situations where handing a gun to a fellow bystander is advisable. I was reacting against doing that as a general rule – if you carry a back-up gun, the primary purpose should not be as armament for someone else.

    The castle doctrine is interpreted differently between the states, but in general, you are allowed to do armed investigation in your own house. It would certainly be smart to have other friendlies participate. But a bump-in-the-night is hardly a CCW scenario. Train your family, give them easy access to guns. Sure. That’s quite different than having a back-up gun to give out.

    Stand-your-ground. Some states allow it. Most don’t. But even in states that allow it, you’re still not allowed to go “hunting” – moving forward into a threat with a weapon. So, you’re going to give a weapon to a bystander to do….what? Execute a pincer movement? Have him hold the line while you investigate? Give suppressive fire while you move to different cover? All of these things exceed the mandate of stand-your-ground.

    Finally, if you’re giving guns to close friends, who you know can handle guns safely and with confidence, then, sure, it might be a good idea. Again, in a hostage-type situation, or in an extraordinary Columbine or Fort-Hood type situation, where “hunting”-type behavior is necessary, then sure.

    As a matter of personal preference, just because you can legally get into a gunfight doesn’t mean you should. The best way to fight is to have the situational awareness to avoid it. Don’t be so sure that you’ll be the one standing at the end. You have a family, right? You can try to be the hero, but don’t be disappointed when fate, or the courts, isn’t appreciative. Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six, sure, but better still to require neither.

  10. some years ago i was working as a gas pump jockey when a state trooper rolled in to buy gas to assist a stranded motorist. i volunteered to go along to help him, (my uniform was cheaper and easier to clean than his.) out on the road we got a b.o.l. call for a vehicle matching the description of our “customer”, as we pulled up on scene the trooper pointed to the cased shotgun in the car and said “you know how to use it.” (statement, not question.) all turned out o.k., it wasn’t the wanted vehicle or subjects so i put the gas in their car and they went on their way, but having a back up with a shotgun made the trooper feel a lot better about walking down on a car in the dark on a lonely highway.

  11. I disagree with Mr. Lee. The states where I most commonly travel are not “must retreat” states and there is no burden to “exit danger”.

    A second gun, in the hands of a trained and competent individual, is one helluva force multiplier.

    In my case, if I’m with my wife, and she doesn’t have the revolver in her purse (which is about as likely as her not having her purse with her), a second piece on me might be just the ticket. So, in that most likely scenario of any to affect me, the answer is, yes!

    I have a couple of friends who, for an assortment of stupid reasons, don’t have their carry permits, either through HR-218 or through state-issued licenses. In some of those cases, including the retired Bureau Agent & weapons trainer, I might give him my primary piece and I’d take my customized P3AT. I’m fairly competent, but he’s nearly a god with a handgun, courtesy of prolly half a million rounds courtesy of our Uncle.

    Having said all that, would I hand a piece to someone I don’t know from Adam? Oh, hell no.


  12. Handing a weapon to “Someone else” is not an act one could be held Liable for during a period of high stress and emergency.

    I do agree with your time line example of why not though in an immediate action type situation. Noted are the obvious exceptions i.e. you are wounded yourself and cannot carry on the fight etc.

    Runaway when possible is the superior defense move always! RE: avoid the fight. The problem is sometimes you cannot. Loved ones with you, you in your home, or even myself now because of medical problems are all reasons why one may need to or want to stay and fight. I literally can no longer runaway only gimp away with my cane. If trouble comes to me these days, I must face it head on.

    Think about a Katrina type situation and if you should need to arm your unarmed neighbors. You may need to equip your own Neighborhood watch. Again an emergency and temporary situation. (A great rationalization for my owning enough guns and ammo to equip a small third world nation)

    For the record, I have moved from my Springfield Professional to a Colt LtWgt Commander (21st Century model) for my own CCW/EDC for the weight savings on my belt. If I should go 9mm these days (not often), I no longer choose my Highpowers. I go with the HK P30 9mm LEM.

    Good luck.


    “We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality” – Ayn Rand


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