What Armed Citizens Under Attack Must Consider Before Pulling the Trigger

What Armed Citizens Under Attack Must Consider Before Pulling the Trigger

What Armed Citizens Under Attack Must Consider Before Pulling the Trigger
What Armed Citizens Under Attack Must Consider Before Pulling the Trigger

Some issues that armed citizens who find themselves under attack must grapple with before they open fire were raised in a book review in the official publication of the National Rifle Association:

1) Be reasonable In all states, a claim of self-defense in the aftermath of

a confrontation that resulted in an injury or a fatality will be judged by whether the defender’s perceptions and actions were those of a reasonable person.

Ideally, the image of a reasonable person is someone who is cautious, responsible, sober, and slow to anger.

Before any trouble occurs, a reasonable person would be known for walking away from fights, regardless of insults and other provocations, if possible, and for being nonaggressive, honorable, and reliable.

After a clash ending in bloodshed, a reasonable person would demonstrate “consciousness of innocence” by retreat- ing to a safe location, quickly notifying the police, and cooperating with their investigation.

2) Be innocent A person who starts or escalates a fight could be viewed

as precipitating or provoking a physical confrontation. Such a

person will find it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully claim that the use of force was an act of self-defense.

3) Be sure the threat is imminent An armed citizen must ask, “Is an attack about to take

place right now unless action is undertaken immediately?” Three conditions must be met: Ability (is the assailant really dangerous?), opportunity (can the attacker reach his intended target?), and jeopardy (is there some indication that the opponent will use the ability and opportunity to inflict harm?).

4) Be sure the counterforce is in proportion to the threat A forceful reaction, such as pulling a trigger, must

match the seriousness of the attacker’s intentions and capabilities.

5) Be sure the confrontation is unavoidable A victim has no duty to retreat before resorting to force

to repel an attack if it is unfolding in a place where he or she has a right to be, but only if that jurisdiction has adopted a “stand your ground” rule. In other locations, an innocent person must first try to retreat, if it is possible to do so safely.

SOURCES: Adapted from Branca, 2013; and Frazer, 2014.


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

Many cases could be cited to illustrate each of these threats. Therefore, law-abiding gun owners should be permitted to carry concealed weapons with them at all times, if they so choose, so they will be prepared to defend themselves, their families, and other innocent bystanders at a moment’s notice, as best they can (for example, see Cox, 2009). In the aftermath of some vicious attack on unarmed persons, maximalists often say wistfully, “If only there was a ‘good guy’ with a gun at the scene while the crime was in progress, the outcome could have been very different.”

Minimalists contend that these hypothetical scenarios put forward by maximalists are too unlikely, statistically speaking, to justify routinely going around armed. They add that the alarmist policy recommendation that guns can and should always be present if owners so choose is counter- productive because the introduction of a firearm can lead to less desirable outcomes than the best- case scenarios predicted by maximalists.

The gun-enthusiast side in this debate sees these weapons as equalizers that can save innocent lives and works for policies that provide ready access to firearms for responsible, law-abiding mature adults. The disarmament side seeks to fur- ther restrict gun availability to all persons. But they are especially concerned about military-style semi- automatic assault weapons with high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as handguns, falling into the “wrong hands” (particularly known crim- inals, drug law violators, teenagers, and mentally unbalanced persons). That concern arises because firearms are seen as facilitators that enable law- breakers to gain powerful advantages over their intended targets. Having a gun handy also can cause everyday conflicts to escalate into deadly showdowns. Both sides in the debate admit that there is a trade-off between legitimately using a gun for self-defense and improperly using a gun to commit crimes, but the two opposing camps differ sharply on whether the costs outweigh the benefits (see Kleck, 1997).

The different assumptions and policy proposals of the two opposing camps were clarified when a gun control organization sponsored a television

advertisement right before congressional hearings were held about disarming individuals who are the subject of restraining orders after misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence:

A mother and her child are alone at home when a man begins to pound on the door and demands to be let in. The woman calls 911 and explains that she has an order of protection against her “ex” but he is trying to enter her home. While she is still on the phone, he barges in and grabs the child. She tries to stop him but he pulls out a gun. As the screen fades to black, a gunshot rings out. (NRA-ILA, 2014)

To the sponsors of the ad, the message was clear: Belligerent offenders ought to be compelled to surrender their firearms as soon as judges grant orders of protection. Dangerous situations could be defused if fewer people had access to deadly weap- ons that facilitate an escalation of disputes, leading to serious injury or death. But to advocates for armed self-defense, the ad inadvertently supported their opposite interpretation of the facts: Victims need guns as equalizers so they won’t easily be dominated and wounded or killed by more power- ful adversaries (NRA-ILA, 2014).

It is worthwhile to investigate a number of victim-centered aspects of arming for protection (but not the hot button issues of political philoso- phy about armed citizens as a bulwark against gov- ernmental tyranny or enemy invaders, or what the Founding Fathers intended when they phrased the Second Amendment). In this emotionally charged and highly politicized debate, unbiased researchers need to answer these questions: How many guns are held in private hands today? How many people or households own firearms and have permits to carry them around with them in everyday life? How often are armed victims confronted by rob- bers, rapists, intruders, and other assailants? How often are armed victims triumphant in warding off an attack, subduing an assailant, or slaying an oppo- nent in a life and death struggle? How often are they vanquished by a better armed or more ruthless opponent? And how often are armed victims responsible for terrible mistakes, tragic accidents, and needless bloodshed?

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Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

None of these questions can be answered definitively and decisively, but some data can be unearthed to shed light on certain aspects of this pro-arming versus pro-disarming debate with max- imalist versus minimalist undercurrents.

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