The Command Presence: Projecting Confidence and Competence
Firearms instructor Tatiana Whitlock says that a gun “does not exude an invisible force shield of competency simply because it’s in your hands. You will not summon your inner John Wick or Jason Bourne simply by drawing it out of the gun safe and pushing it out in front of you towards the area that’s making you afraid.”
Drawing a firearm during a life-threatening confrontation without the willingness or competency to use it is a recipe for disaster. Those who are unwilling or incompetent will likely be betrayed by their posture and body language, which may only embolden an attacker.
Over New Year’s weekend, a pastor was killed and two others injured in a shooting at a Texas church. Rev. Mark Allen McWilliams was shot with his own pistol. 21-year-old Mytrez Deunte Wollen, a suspect in a driveby shooting, had hid in the church overnight after fleeing the police. Rev. McWilliams found Wollen hiding in a bathroom stall before Sunday morning service.
According to The Washington Post, “McWilliams ordered the man to get on the ground, but when the pastor began speaking with his wife, Wollen lunged at him disarming him and shooting him.”
Sheriff Larry Smith spoke to the Washington Post reporter. “‘They did everything we would tell them to do; they were carrying,’ Smith said of the church. ‘But the thing about it is, and I don’t want to get off into it, but if you are going to carry a firearm, you got to be willing to use it. I don’t want to be second-guessing the pastor by any means.”
Whether Rev. McWilliams lacked the will to fire or whether he was simply not skilled enough to handle the criminal threat, we’ll never know. What’s clear is that Wollen saw in McWilliams someone he could quickly overpower, despite the pistol, and he did just that.
One of the touchstone cases we frequently reference is the shooting of Muhammad Rahim by Alexander Weiss. After being involved in a minor automotive collision, Weiss exited his vehicle to speak with the other driver. He was confronted by Raheem and his friend Noah Dukart. At trial, Weiss testified that Dukart hunched his shoulders and balled his fists. When Weiss threatened to call police, Dukart threatened to kill him.
Weiss retrieved his pistol from his car, and when confronted again, Weiss displayed his pistol, pointing it to the side and at the ground. According to Weiss, Rahim laughed and said “That’s not even a real gun,” and tried to grab the pistol. Weiss chambered a round and aimed it at Rahiem’s chest. When Rahim said “do it then,” Weiss fired a fatal shot.
By all measures, Weiss failed to make an effective defensive display of the weapon. When Rahim suggested the gun wasn’t real (which it clearly was), he probably meant that he didn’t believe Weiss had the wherewithal to actually use it. Based on the testimony of Weiss and Dukart, I doubt Weiss handled his pistol in a confident or competent manner, and it led to Rahiem taunting him into pulling the trigger.
Weiss was charged in the shooting and stood trial twice; both resulted in mistrials because of deadlocked juries.
It’s likely that both Weiss and Rev. McWilliams were at first unresolved regarding their willingness to shoot their attackers, and their actions demonstrated they were unprepared to effectively use their firearms. Tatiana Whitlock says, “A little bit of range time and a little bit of scenario-based training is an incredible eye-opening experience to who you are as an individual, and how prepared or ill-prepared you are to solve that problem.”
Just as an incompetent display of a fiream can embolden an attacker, the way you carry yourself and operate in uncomfortable situations can send signals to would-be attackers about whether or not you are an easy target for a crime of opportunity.
Firearms instructor and CCW Safe contributor Steve Moses told me about a time he lived in a high crime area. “You did not see people walking to stores from their car looking at their handheld cell phones. They weren’t texting. They walked with their heads up and they looked around, and if they saw a person whose intent was suspicious, they steered around them.”
Tatiana Whitlock encourages her clients to avoid engaging with technology when they are in unfamiliar or uncomfortable surroundings. “Why do predators pick the distracted, slouched shoulders, eyes down, very introspective individual?” Tatiana asks. “Because they are not presenting someone who looks like they would put up a fight.”
“Your command presence,” Tatiana says, “is a major part of that nonverbal communication.”
I’ve watched the video released by Kyle Rittenhouse’s lawyers about a dozen times. Rittenhouse faces charges for killing two men and wounding another during a night of riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin last summer. The very young-looking suburban seventeen-year-old chose to open carry an AR-15-style rifle as he offered medical aid to people injured during the mayhem, and he became the target of an angry rioter.
It may be revealing that all three of the people Rittenhouse shot made attempts to disarm him, and two of them were unarmed themselves. Regardless of what you think about Rittenhouse’s actions or his decision to open carry a rifle, there is a strong case to be made that the teenager did not carry the weapon with a “command presence.” Somehow these three attackers didn’t take the Rittenhouse seriously. As a consequence, Rittenhouse now faces an epic legal fight for his freedom.
The lesson for concealed carriers is that when you decide to arm yourself, you must be resolved that you’re willing to use deadly force to save the life of yourself or another. You should never display your firearm defensively unless you’re prepared to fire it. If you’ve never been in a life or death self-defense scenario before, you don’t know how you’re going to react, and that’s where the hands-on firing experience and scenario-based training that Tatiana Whitlock mentions becomes critical. If you fail to exude a command presence when you carry, you may actually invite an attack, and in a worst case scenario, lose control of your weapon and become the victim of your own firearm.
SHAWN VINCENT- LITIGATION CONSULTANT
Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters. If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know belo