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Heroic Consequences

Heroic Consequences

Questions to ask yourself before going in defense of others

When we holster up, an astounding emotional transformation often occurs: We become empowered. We feel defended, secure--we almost feel immortal. It's as if the firearm we carry imparts strength and shielding approaching superhero proportions.

Is this a carjacking or an undercover police officer effecting a legal arrest? Be sure you know all the facts before getting involved.

Some of that feeling is justified. As the Old West saying goes, "God made men. Sam Colt made 'em equal."

The firearm does offer additional defensive capabilities, but caveats exist; you must carry it, train with it and maintain situational awareness at all times. Even with all that, being the good people that we are, a firearm is a defensive weapon, especially a handgun. It is not employed until after we are attacked.

Being behind the time/power curve is never a good thing, and mere possession of a weapon may not always save the day. Which brings me to my next point. Some of the emotional advantages of carrying a firearm may not hold true. Worse yet, believing them may actually increase your danger.

The feeling of security is one of falsehood. As I am sure you have heard, "Never do anything with a gun that you would not do without a gun." While that may sound elementary and like plain old common sense, I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard people say that they only carry a gun when they think they might need it.

While they use that statement as an excuse for not carrying full-time, they completely overlook the absurdity of their own words. If you are going to a place where you think you may need a gun, don't go. The first rule of winning a gun fight is not to be in one.


I remember the feeling of empowerment when I first started carrying a gun many years ago. I remember thinking that if I ever saw a robbery, rape or some other violent crime, I could now stop it because I had a gun. More recently, upon recalling those early ponderances, I realized that I never thought of the potential consequences of those actions. It never came to mind that I could be the one who ended up getting shot. Fantasies are like that--the hero never dies.

While teaching firearms students, I have made it a point to ask them if they had similar views either now or when they first started to carry. A vast majority of them did. I also learned that, like me, most of them did not think of the potential consequences. We imagine that when hearing a woman scream, we would rush into the alley and force the attacker to stop with our commanding voice and drawn gun. Or we would see ourselves grabbing our gun when we hear the crashing of our front door, stopping the invading bad guys in their tracks. It was as if possession of a firearm were akin to donning Superman's suit.

The reality of gunfights is much darker than those heroic musings. Realize that you may get shot yourself, resulting in serious injury or death. You may be prosecuted and go to prison, even if you believe you were correct in your actions. And, win or lose, it may cost you a fortune to defend yourself in court.

There is no legal obligation to protect a third party. Be sure you understand the potential consequences before you find yourself in that position.

Because of the media bias against guns, we rarely hear of citizens coming to the aid of others with a firearm. But two situations a couple of years ago brought the issue of dire consequences to the forefront of citizen carry. In February 2005, Mark Wilson, a good guy with a carry license, died trying to stop the rampage of David Arroyo on the courthouse steps in Tyler, Texas. Carrying a Mak-90 7.62x39 rifle and wearing body armor, Arroyo was shot by Wilson's .45 but was undeterred because of his body armor. His returning fire killed Wilson, who had unselfishly tried to save others.

On November 2005, Dominick Maldonado opened fire on shoppers with a Norinco Mak-90 rifle at a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. An armed citizen, Brendan McKown, drew his pistol and ordered the gunman to put down his gun. Rather than comply, Maldonado fired four rounds into McKown. The citizen hero survived, but with devastating wounds. At this writing it is not known if he will ever walk again.

Both of these men can only be described as heroes in the truest sense of the word. While we may debate their tactics, they were selfless in their drive to save others. Both paid severe prices for their bravery.

While there is no doubt that we will take those risks for the ones we love, what about for strangers? What rights do we have when protecting third parties? Is there an obligation to do so?

And the most difficult question is, Should we protect others?

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The Virginia Tech shootings occurred shortly before this article went to press. This tragedy runs far deeper than the obvious. The shootings are but one symptom of what is wrong with the mindset and thought processes of all too many people.

The second tragedy that day was that there was no one shooting back. Any potential heroes were disarmed by the school's "no guns" policy. Ironically, just last year the Virginia General Assembly failed to pass a bill that would have enabled the carry of guns on campus. School officials hailed the decision by proclaiming that students and faculty "can feel safe" knowing that there are no guns on campus.

The reality is that there are guns on campus--guns in the hands of criminals. That is the problem with "gun-free zones": They make the uninformed feel better when, in fact, they create victim-disarmament zones, or what I call "criminal empowerment zones."

Just as a burglar will pick a home without a noisy dog, someone bent on human destruction will choose a location where their heinous crimes can be carried out unfettered by the return gunfire of potential victims. That's why shooting rampages don't take place at police stations or gun ranges. Israel solved the problem of school attacks by arming teachers. Hijackings of Israel's EL AL airliners ceased when armed marshals were placed on every flight.

The most astonishing tragedy was the lack of survival mindset of the victims. Forensic evidence shows that many victims had wounds consistent wi

th attempts to shield themselves, but there were no defensive wounds on the shooter. That tells us that the victims did not fight back and allowed themselves to be executed. Their absence of survival mindset is a testament to our liberal society's powerful and successful campaign to train us not to think for ourselves, not to act for ourselves and to rely on others for our safety and well-being.

The Virginia Tech tragedy is an illustration of liberal ideology at its worst. In this case the consequence of not shooting back was death.--David Kenik

The legal answers are easy, but we are not so lucky in the emotional and moral elements of the issue. Legally, most states allow the use of lethal force in the defense of another as long as the use of force reasonably appears to be justified. However, the laws of every state vary.

A good rule of thumb is to put yourself in the victim's place and use only equal force. Use lethal force only if all elements of ability, opportunity and jeopardy are present. The attacker must actually possess the power to kill or cripple (have a weapon, overwhelming strength, etc.), the attacker must have the opportunity to kill or cripple (close enough to carry out the action without impedance), and the attacker must actually be in the process of attempting to kill or cripple.

In the case of defending a third party, you must be extremely cognizant of the fact that you may not know all of the details of the altercation. The person you are about to protect may actually be the assailant. You would have no way of knowing this unless you were witness to the onset of the proceeding altercation, and perhaps not even then.

If you come across a victim being "mugged by two men," they could, in fact, be two undercover police officers effecting a legal arrest. If you observe a man with a gun running out of a convenience store and another follows yelling, "Stop him; he just shot someone," the running man with the gun may very well be the victim of a robbery seeking help and the person who yelled "Stop him" may be the criminal seeking to create a diversion for extra escape time. Be sure you know all of the facts before using force.

In terms of obligation, as a private citizen you are not required to do anything if you see a crime happening. There is no legal obligation to protect others.

The author's Springfield Armory XD40 after an extended 400-round practice session. The XD has served him well during several years of carry.

With the legality of the issue settled, now you have to decide if you should protect others. The moral issues of any complex decision are usually far more complicated than the legal ones, and this is no exception. Are you willing to risk the consequences for a complete stranger? Should you stop a violent crime that does not involve you or your loved one and risk your own life and health? Can you let a violent crime happen and do nothing? Is your safety and your family's well-being more important to you than those of a stranger? These are some of the toughest questions you will ever have to answer.

For new gun owners, I suggest that they ask themselves "The Big Question." "Can you take a life?" More to the point, "If you or a member of your family is placed in mortal danger, can you shoot a human being to save him or yourself?"

For me--and I suspect the same is true for most people who carry guns--the answer is easy. Yes, I will defend myself and my family. The question of defending a stranger and putting my own life or family's well-being at risk is much more difficult to answer.

The most eloquent phrasing of these concerns came from Michael de Bethencourt of Northeastern Tactical Schools. He asks his students, "Are you willing to give up your life, freedom, health and/or wealth for a complete stranger?"

This article is not presented to advise or judge, just to lay out and explore the issues and facts so you can make your own decision--hopefully, an informed decision. It is essential that you understand and weigh the situation and the potential consequences before you get involved.

The easy answer, for me (as the writer, of course), is to say that if the welfare of your family is more important than that of a stranger, keep out of the fight. If you can't live with yourself knowing that you let a violent crime happen, make sure you know the full situation (who the victim really is) and be sure that all elements of justified lethal force are met.

This issue requires serious forethought. Make your determination before you find yourself in that situation. Let logic and personal convictions, not emotions, determine your actions and make the choice that is right for you.

David Kenik is the executive director of the Police Officers Safety Association, as well as an armed citizen, competitive shooter and author of Armed Response: A Comprehensive Guide to Using Firearms for Self-Defense.

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