“The first rule for surviving a gunfight is don’t go to gunfights.” – Jim Higginbotham
In a widely circulated video, a white woman pointed a gun at a Black woman and her daughter as the black woman filmed with her cellphone in a parking lot in Orion Township, Michigan. As the brief video played I counted a half-dozen felonies committed by the gun woman: assault, wanton endangerment and terroristic threatening, each violation drawing two counts each since there were two victims. There were probably federal civil rights violations also. I don’t know what led up to this scene, but in the eyes of the law it simply doesn’t matter. The woman with the cell phone posed no imminent threat. The gunslinger couple was arrested. Mrs. and Mr. Gunslinger have each been charged with felonious assault, which carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison. Somehow I doubt that this couple thought that they would be headed to prison as they began their day. I would guess that right now, they both wish they had never seen a gun.
Some people have always carried guns, legal or not. Some will always carry guns regardless of legalities, but in the 1980’s an armed citizen movement began fueled by the street violence of the drug wars and advocacy groups like the NRA which pushed for laws which legalized the concealed carry of handguns. Since that time there has been an explosion of citizens arming themselves and carrying defensive weapons to high risk situations like going to the grocery store or getting a coffee at Starbucks (sarcasm). I remember thinking in those days that a lot of people were going to get themselves into trouble with their newly acquired personal artillery. I was right. But how did I know with complete certainty that this would be a problem?
Since firearms ownership is a “right” under the Constitution, we cannot impose training or competence tests upon gun owners. It is the same theory that forbids intelligence tests for voters. We cannot impose qualification standards for things which are enshrined in the Constitution as human rights. It is up to the individual gun owner to provide their own competence and training in order to be a responsible gun owner, and most people are too lazy to do that. You can go to a gun store, undergo a background check and walk out with a gun which is then dropped into a purse or glove compartment and forgotten until the opportunity to wreck your life appears. So, as a public service, I offer the following tips for would-be gunslingers.
LEARN THE LAW – Here’s a shocker for you: there are no circumstances under which it is legal to use a gun against another person. Period, full stop. Most self-defense laws operate under the theory of “affirmative defense,” meaning that it remains illegal to shoot someone else, but there are certain circumstances under which you have a valid defense in a court of law for shooting or killing someone, and these are very rare. The police never come to the scene of a shooting and say, “This was a righteous shoot. Here’s your gun back, Mr. Gunslinger. Have a nice day.” To the contrary, if you shoot someone, you will go to jail in handcuffs and it will be up to the judge and the local prosecutor to determine how long you stay there. Even in a “righteous shoot” you will spend many thousands of dollars on lawyers to defend yourself. You may go to prison. It’s a high price to pay for a momentary ego trip. It is always against the law to point a gun at another person. Shooting another person is always a legal liability.
GUNS ARE FOR SHOOTING THINGS – I know, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” To illuminate the point, let me tell you what guns are not for. Guns are not for threatening people. Guns are not for crowd control. Guns are not for making people do what you want them to do. The only situation in which your gun should leave its holster (you do have a holster, don’t you?) is when you are preparing to shoot the gun in the belief that you or someone else in under an imminent threat of grave harm. Any use of a gun against another person, even if you don’t fire, will get you arrested and charged. This includes the proverbial “warning shot.” In court they just call this a “miss.”
KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE GODDAMNED TRIGGER UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO FIRE – Recently I have seen in news clips of armed citizens at the scene of demonstrations with their guns out and fingers on the trigger. The correct position for the trigger finger is on the side of the frame above the trigger guard, not in it. Even police officers have failed at this at times, tragically resulting in the death of another person. In the stress of an armed confrontation strange things happen. One of them can be the involuntary tightening of the finger on the trigger resulting in a negligent discharge of the firearm. Studies have shown that fine motor skills degrade about 30% in the stress of a violent confrontation. For that matter, you could trip on a crack in the sidewalk and launch a round before you realize it. You could be startled by a noise. I could go on, but you get the idea.
DON’T BE A DICKHEAD – Some people seem to believe that having a gun gives them the right to be rude and confrontational. Wrong. If you carry a gun, you must go out of your way to be more polite, more tolerant, and less easily offended. If you antagonize another person to the extent that they attack you, and you shoot them, the law will hold you responsible for initiating the confrontation. Avoidance of an armed confrontation is always your first order of business. In the case study I shared at the outset, Mr. and Mrs. Gunslinger could have simply gotten into their car and driven away. Had they done this, they would be free right now.
SHOOTING PEOPLE IS GENERALLY CONSIDERED IMMORAL AND ANTISOCIAL – While we make special ethical dispensations for cops and soldiers, shooting other folks is generally frowned upon in this establishment. There are good reasons for this. There are places in the world where gun play rules the streets every damned day. We as a society have come to the consensus that we do not wish to live in that sort of environment. Jesus never said, “Blessed is he who can put a half-inch double-tap into an adversary’s center of mass in under two seconds.”
There are emotional, psychological and (dare I use the word) spiritual considerations about this. Do you really want another person’s life on your conscience? Someone you don’t even like, someone you could have walked away from? What is the value of a human life, or even their long-term health should they survive? Would you kill someone for a TV or a parking space? When you think back on your own life, how many situations have you faced which were so dire that firing a gun would have produced a positive outcome? This is not to say that those situations don’t exist, but that they are rare or nearly non-existent for most people.
In a real sense, an act of violence binds us to the object of our violence for the rest of our lives. That binding is both legal and emotional. Once these things happen, that person who is the object of our violence will never completely leave our lives. The consequences will follow us throughout our days. If Mrs. and Mr. Gunslinger do get a felony conviction out of this, even if they avoid jail time, they will lose their right to vote; they’ll never get another good job, and, of course, they will lose their right to possess guns.
It is not my intent to pass judgment on the question of armed self-defense. I am truly agnostic on the matter. It is my intent to say that going about armed in public is a matter which requires deep thought and a realistic comparison of the pros and cons. I do believe that far too many people arm themselves casually and recklessly, not taking the time to learn the rules, train their minds and bodies or weigh the consequences of their actions. Like Mrs. Gunslinger, they are cruising into a world of hurt.