In studying citizen defensive gun uses (DGU's) over the years, I've noticed some commonalities. Below is a list of the most frequent errors or “poor decisions” citizen defenders make when using self-defense.
Each month I study around 50 use of force incidents reported in the media and amateur video. This habit started years ago when I was a police officer. Some of them involve citizen defenders, and others law enforcement.
I am no longer a police officer. However, as the producer of the Concealed Carry Podcast, I continue looking at these incidents. Once a month, I present the stories with interesting facts or circumstances. I select those incidents which demonstrate good and bad, “lessons learned” for us to discuss.
When a law enforcement officer (LEO) uses a firearm, it's typically referred to as an officer-involved shooting or OIS. A non-LEO or citizen's use of force with a gun is a Defensive Gun Use or DGU. I am focusing on the citizen DGU's in this article.
Common Errors in Defensive Gun Uses:
The list isn't necessarily the most egregious decision as far as affecting the outcome. Instead, just actions that I see time and time again, that are:
Studying these incidents is not designed to Monday morning quarterback any of these peoples' decisions. Nevertheless, I consider it a disservice if I don't use the opportunity to point out things to consider if you are ever required to defend yourself or another.
So here we go.
1. Firing Warning Shots:
Cranking off rounds into the air is number one on the error list. Firing warning shots does not always lead to prosecution. However, it doesn't mean it isn't horrible in practice.
People typically fire warning shots to scare the attacker or to stop them from fleeing the area. This incident in Canyon County, California, is a perfect example of this.
Why is it a bad idea to fire warning shots?
When you fire a gun, you are responsible for the bullet and any damage caused by it. The destination of a bullet fired into the air, or the ground is unpredictable.
Of course, a bullet fired into the air has the potential to kill or injure someone when it comes back down.
However, even bullets fired into the ground can skip and or ricochet, sending the projectile in an unknown direction.
The last thing you want is to injure or kill someone unintentionally.
Second, warning shots do not always work to scare and stop the attacker. Think about the capacity of the gun you use for home or self-defense. Then reduce it by one or two. Are the remaining rounds enough to deal with the threat?
And if those reasons aren't enough, please also consider that firing warning shots can be illegal depending on the particular circumstances.
2. Leaving the Gun in The Car:
Many DGU's elements include the defender “going out to the car to get their handgun.” Of course, not everyone will carry their firearm 100% of the time. There are times where it may be in the vehicle. However, our desire as concealed carriers should be to have the gun on our person as much as we possibly can.
Why do we keep the gun with us?
It is a problem if you can't use the gun to defend yourself because it isn't with you. This incident in Alaska has a happy ending. However, in this case, the good samaritan needed to go out to his vehicle to retrieve his gun and stop a knife-wielding man inside the store.
It may not be your intention to leave the gun in the car. However, quite often, people forget and leave the gun in the car overnight. Consider that the majority of car burglaries happen at night. Knowing this, we should try to avoid leaving the gun in the car, especially overnight.
3. Not Carrying With a Round in the Chamber:
I think that if you are carrying a firearm for defensive purposes, it should be loaded. People have many reasons for their decision to carry an unloaded gun. At its core, the reasoning behind not having a round in the chamber revolves around safety.
While I completely understand this feeling and fear, we need to be honest about the reality of defensive gun use. It should come as no surprise that the vast majority of defensive gun use encounters begin with a physical confrontation. A physical fight means that the defender may be using one or two hands while protecting themselves from the attacker.
Using one hand to defend against the attack means only one hand is left to rack the slide and get the gun loaded. Sure, it is possible to rack a handgun slide using one hand. However, it is not always easy. Here is an article I wrote a long time ago. In the post, I address the process of deciding to carry with a round in the chamber or not. And if you choose to carry an unloaded firearm, here is a reference for your training.
4. Thinking the Gun is a Shield:
Why do you carry a firearm or have one to defend your home? Hopefully, the answer is because a gun is an excellent tool in many self-defense instances.
If your reasoning is something like, “because it will protect me,” please make sure to read on.
Here is the problem:
Guns in and of themselves don't protect anyone. They do not provide a magic shield that protects you against bullets, knives, bats, and punches.
For instance, this story documents the tragic story of a pastor who lost his life when he confronted an unarmed man in the church. The man was able to disarm the pastor and used his gun to kill him.
A lack of training can be the cause of some of these types of issues. I mean that sometimes folks do not possess the necessary skills to use the firearm effectively. The pastor mentioned above may not have known how to defend against an attacker attempting to take his gun physically.
However, not knowing how to use the gun effectively is one thing. Believing or hoping that simply having or drawing the firearm will deter the attacker is different. The second mindset can manifest in an underestimation of the actual threat you face. Unfortunately, you may decide training isn't even necessary because having a gun and shooting now and again is sufficient.
We can't predict exactly what will happen in every incident. However, we absolutely can analyze if we would fall victim to some of these common stumbling blocks that seem to plague citizen-defenders. The goal is to do everything we can beforehand to tip the scales of survival in our favor.
If you are looking for an introductory entry-level gun safety course, check out our brand new course. And best of all, it's free and covers gun safety from a self-defense perspective.