Should a CCW holder get involved in someone else’s fight?

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A week or so ago, Greg Ellifritz (who’s a police officer by trade) posted a story about a call in which he was involved. Seems that a male store security officer (who is also a cop, albeit part-time) had a running fight with a female shoplifter that ended up on the side of a thoroughfare. The suspect got the bright idea of yelling “rape!” in an attempt to elicit some help on the part of passers-by.

She got it in the form of a citizen with a valid concealed carry permit. (I won’t go into the details of the encounter, but I encourage you to read Greg’s account for the whole story.)

The person with the CCW intervened on behalf of someone he didn’t know, against someone he didn’t know, in a situation where he was not cognizant of all of the relevant facts. It’s natural, I think, to believe that the person yelling “rape” would be the innocent. The suspect certainly did, which was her plan!

This incident could have turned out very differently. The CCW holder could have shot the cop/security officer, the security guy could have shot him, or the responding officers could have mistaken the CCW for an accomplice of either of the others and shot him.

It’s easy to think of ourselves, possessors of valid concealed carry licenses, as upright citizens being on the side of truth and virtue and a line of defense against the evil in this world. The language of much of the training industry tends to reinforce these notions: note how many people use the word ‘sheepdog’ with regard to concealed carry.

The problem is that some people, such as our CCW holder in this story, take that stuff seriously. There is a bit of daydreamer in each of us, one who sees himself as being the hero in a dire circumstance: riding in to save the damsel from harm. Some segments of the training industry are happy to reinforce, or at least not discourage, such beliefs. This incident should serve as a counterpoint to that, as things are not always what they seem!

I caution my students that they should look at their concealed firearm as being intended for the protection of themselves and their loved ones against an identified lethal threat, and not necessarily for the protection of the public at large. I can imagine how this guy felt when he heard what he truly believed to be someone in need of assistance, but at the same time he could have gotten himself, or someone else, unjustifiably killed.

We start with the concept that the threat of lethal force (your drawn gun) is only applicable when you or someone else is facing a lethal threat. In this case, assuming the situation is as Greg reports it, I don’t see where there was a lethal threat which warranted the CCW holder to have his own gun in play. Generally, in the absence of an immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm, the lethal tool (the gun) is not the proper choice whether you’re protecting yourself or protecting others.

That brings us back to pretending to be something you’re not: this fellow was using a lethal threat (his gun) simply to get someone else to follow his orders. That’s what police officers do, and are allowed to do, but that’s not what private citizens carrying a concealed handgun are allowed to do. We are not cops, but someone apparently forgot to explain that distinction to him.

Intervention with a concealed pistol is fraught with risk. You first need to ask yourself if there is a true danger of death (or grave harm) to another human being. If someone is attacking you that’s an easy thing to answer, but when dealing with two other parties it’s a question that requires a little conscious effort.

Are you absolutely certain that the players in the situation are what they appear to be? If someone walks into the mall and starts shooting it’s a lot easier to make that analysis than in the case Greg relates. Getting involved with lethal force in a scenario where you end up shooting the wrong person is a grave error (and being shot because you were seen by someone else as the bad guy would be a grave consequence.)

It’s important, I believe, to think about this kind of incident ahead of time and decide the parameters under which you would act. In what cases would you even consider intervention to protect another? How will you be sure that you should? What can you do to ascertain the players before you bring your gun to bear? Finally, how might you deal with the aftermath of having shot what turned out to be an innocent person?

These are not easy questions, nor should they be.

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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