As an armed civilian you may need to use your weapon in defense of yourself or another innocent. Civilian self-defense shootings are wildly varied, so it’s hard to generalize about them. But if it happens in public you can bet the police will be arriving quickly, and when they get there it’s very likely they will have insufficient information. They will evaluate the situation mostly on what they can observe on arrival.
They’re going to be keyed up, knowing that people have been shot. If it was a spree shooter or if there’s an officer down they’re going to be really keyed up. It’s a situation tailor-made for mistakes. You need to be prepared to deal with them, and you need to make absolutely sure that you are not part of the problem. It would suck to survive a lethal force encounter only to be shot by the police. The other week in Colorado it happened.
Details are sketchy and we’re not going to focus on those here; the gist of it is a bad guy shot a good guy, an armed civilian shot the bad guy, the police showed up and shot the good guy. Three people dead, only one of them a bad guy.
We’re all human. A lot of us train. We all have reflexes. Good things, generally, but in the wrong situation even good training can get you killed if you haven’t thought about what to do after the bullets stop flying.
I’ve been around the block a time or two, and had some experiences most people haven’t. Despite this I’m just some guy on the internet so take my words as food for thought, not Received Gospel. This is a thing I have thought about and come to understand that the danger isn’t over until the police are in control of the situation.
When the police arrive they will have some very specific priorities, the first being to establish that the danger has passed. Close on the heels of that they will want to establish control of the scene, both to insure the safety of themselves and the public and to preserve evidence. Anything that interferes with these priorities will be dealt with abruptly and with little regard for social niceties. Because of the variability of the circumstances of civilian shootings it’s difficult to give specific advice, but anything that appears threatening to either their safety or their sense of control can have bad, even tragic, results. You need to bear this in mind.
That’s not going to be easy; you’ve just had the mother of all adrenaline rushes. Your fight-or-flight reflex has been triggered in a big way. You may be experiencing a major rush of elation as it sinks in that you have survived. Everything you have just experienced is going to make it difficult for you to control your responses and you may even be in shock. So what do do?
Think it through in advance. Be mentally prepared; understand the priorities and needs of the responding officers. Know what they want and do your best to give it to them. Condition yourself to do as they order, immediately and without hesitation. Don’t volunteer information, don’t try to explain anything and, for the love of God, don’t argue with them. If they tell you to drop your $3,000 STI pistol drop it. A gun is a lot easier to fix than a bullet hole.
There’s another thing you can do to improve the situation if it seems safe and prudent.
Yes, other people have probably called them already. So what? Tell the operator who you are. Answer their questions, but don’t volunteer information. OK you’re pretty much going to need to give them basic details like the fact that you were involved in a shooting. But that thing about ‘anything you say can and will be used against you’ is very much in play here. People tend to be a bit disorganized in these situations and sometimes say things out of their proper order or express themselves in a way that later sounds bad in court. Limiting yourself to the bare essentials can insulate you from this possibility. The police will make their decisions based on what they find, and you’ll have ENDLESS opportunities to tell your side of things later, trust me. Ideally after consulting with and in the presence of your lawyer.
The 911 operators will keep the responding officers informed, and the more information they have the safer you are. They’ll also probably keep you informed and instruct you on what to do as the police arrive.
Any shooting situation is messy and chaotic. People are going to be frightened, maybe hysterical. The responding police will be in a high state of readiness and hyper-alert. Nothing will absolutely guarantee things will go as they should, but with some understanding and forethought you can stack the odds in your favor, and really that’s all you can ever do.
Stay safe and take care.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 30 June 2021