The Four Principals of Concealed Carry Commitment- Part 4: Judgement
Part 4: JUDGEMENT
In our series The Four Core Principles of Concealed Carriers, we’re exploring what I see as the most important principles concealed carriers should adopt to be safe and responsible as they exercise their right to carry. In this installment we will examine the importance of JUDGEMENT and a personal example which made me chose it as a core principle.
In this final installment of the Concealed Carry Commitment, I want to discuss what I feel is the most important principle of Concealed Carry: JUDGEMENT.
The killing of Deputy George Pfeil early in my career helped to focus me on my own safety and how I directed and managed the rest of my career from a safety perspective. Mindset, education and training became paramount in my career. Over forty years, I have been involved in numerous situations where deadly force may have been justified for myself or others with me. Some were every day law enforcement contacts. Ongoing investigations, arrest situations, traffic stops and the like. Some, however, were random events that “happened” in front of me.
I was once asked how many times I could have been justified in using deadly force over my career. Most experienced LEO’s will tell you that it really doesn’t matter, that every day you leave the comfort and safety of your own home, you enter an environment you largely cannot control. The same is true for the average citizen, whether you carry or not.
It will likely happen when you least expect it, like driving by a convenience store and see a guy running out with a gun, or the road rage incident at a traffic light. The neighbor you hardly know chasing his wife or kid up the block with a meat cleaver.
One aspect of my career has been investigating dozens of Officer Involved Shooting (OIS) cases. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that cops shoot people. That action results in a criminal as well as an internal investigation. My experience is on the criminal investigative side. I have always found it curious how there didn’t seem to be any correlation between years of officer experience and the decision to shoot, as backed by at least one (very limited) scientific study by researcher Greg Ridgeway of the University of Pennsylvania (2015).
One might think there is a tendency for younger, less experienced officers to decide to shoot faster in a circumstance out of fear and poor judgement. Alternatively, the case could be made for a more experienced officers shooting quicker because of their experience and having the ability to evaluate a danger more effectively than the younger officer.
One could equally articulate the opposite assumption for both the rookie and the experienced cop. So I have to make the observation that the decision to use deadly force is all about judgement. Yes, experience plays a major role, as do fear and adrenaline and probably a hundred different other inputs at the moment the decision is made to shoot or not to shoot. In my opinion, judgement is the key overall factor in that decision, and it is based on all those other inputs combined.
So, how does this all shake out for the civilian concealed carry holder? I make the above available to the reader because the other elements we have discussed are all common to law enforcement officers. They generally have a warrior mindset, are educated and trained for the job and receive regular retraining along the way. The final element is JUDGEMENT. Everyone has it, both good and bad. How we use it and the ways in which we apply it to a given situation determine the outcome.
We get judgement from life experiences. The way we were raised and our family values, the life lessons learned previously, some formal education, the decisions we have made in similar circumstances. We get judgement from observing others we respect and dislike. We get it from reading and training. But mostly we get it from our personal experiences. Judgement, then, is based on the inputs and cues we get from the totality of experiences in our own lives and from those around us.
All that kind of circles back to incorporate our previous prinicples: Mindset, Education and Training.
Judgement is like a cloud. Unlike your age or the hours of training and education you can quantify, you can’t measure judgement. You can’t put it in a box, weigh it, put a ruler on it, hold it or feel it. You can’t score it or teach it. And judgement is fleeting. We all know someone ( I am asking for introspection here- look at yourself) who has pretty good judgement MOST of the time. But every now and then we have a brain fart. Sometimes we do it while involved in things we have done for years. If you ever had an unintentional discharge with your weapon, it was likely a lapse of judgement. Ran a red light with the kids in the car, late for that little league game. I won’t ask for a show of hands.
My point is, we all do it. We are human, and NOBODY goes through life without making a bad decision. Bad judgement is often the result of a mental shortcut because we are betting that whatever bad thing that could happen, won’t happen. In our lives as responsible concealed carriers, we are faced with options for dealing with difficult situations. In almost every confrontation, you will be presented with three options. You can AVOID, DE-ESCALATE or USE (DEADLY) FORCE. Let’s discuss those options individually.
First, you can AVOID the situation entirely. Walk away. Don’t let anyone bait you into a confrontation. Be the bigger person. Call law enforcement and be a good witness, but don’t get personally or physically involved where it’s not necessary. This is particularly true for situations not involving violence or life-and- death events. Is your neighbor’s lawnmower worth killing someone over? Not likely. Stay in your house or car, use your phone to call police and do everything in your power to avoid confrontation. Be a good witness, and let police take care of the problem.
Secondly, you can use DE-ESCALATION tactics. When confronted, don’t mimic your opponent’s behavior or act aggressively toward him. Retreat to a safe location if possible. Just because your state law says you don’t have to retreat, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t retreat. If you can’t retreat or keep to yourself, don’t show the weapon or threaten to use it unless absolutely necessary. Look around for witnesses for support. Don’t let the situation devolve into a physical confrontation from a verbal one. Maintain a calm, adult demeanor using a calm low voice and mature bearing. Studies have shown that aggressors often tend to de-escalate when they don’t sense a return threat. They also tend to mimic their opponent if the opponent is speaking in lower, calmer tones. Do you really care if the parking lot road rage bully thinks you are a wimp? You really shouldn’t. If you are in the wrong to begin with, apologize and attempt to calm the situation. Win the day with maturity, not your ego. Testosterone-fueled confrontations are deadly. Don’t be that guy (or gal).
Thirdly, and ONLY if you are faced with a DEADLY FORCE situation, should you present and use the weapon. In that situation, VERBALIZE loudly, call for help and try to get those around you to notice you and become witnesses. The more witnesses you have for a potential deadly force situation, the better. GET OFF ME; SOMEONE CALL POLICE; STOP HITTING ME; HE’S GOT A GUN/KNIFE/BASEBALL BAT; HELP ME!!! Verbalize and get help. Be decisive. If it is truly a deadly force situation, then don’t equivocate. Be sure before you draw and fire. Be sure it’s justified and be prepared to articulate your jeopardy.
I know the third option does not necessarily square with option #2, being calm and quiet, trying to de-escalate. If a situation has devolved to a violent or deadly force situation, all bets are off, and de-escalation was either never an option to begin with, or the assailant is beyond dealing with rationally. At that point, you want to have as many eyes and ears as possible on you and your situation.
Way too many years ago, I was called to a shooting scene. Upscale neighborhood. After midnight. Home of a retired United States Marine Corps general. Combat decorated veteran of World War 2 and Korea. Viet Nam command guy. Squared away Marine at the age of 72. Three wars. Who knows how many enemy dead. I was in his home. Impressive museum-quality display of firearms and memorabilia.
And I carted him away in handcuffs.
Because he shot his presentation Colt 1911 at a car parked in front of his home with two 18 yr old boys in it, who, I learned, were waiting for the 16-year old neighbor girl to sneak out of her house and go drinking.
Oh, he had control of the weapon. His statement to me was that he knew exactly where he was shooting. The two rounds hit right where he intended them to hit, the left front quarter panel just in front of the driver’s door. Two inches apart. Perfect placement according to him. From probably 40 yards in semidarkness. Not bad for an old guy, or for anyone. He said if he had intended to hit them, he damn sure would have (and I believed him). Couldn’t figure out why I was taking him to jail.
Out of respect, even though I’m sure he is long dead, I won’t identify him.
Did he have the warrior’s mindset? Hell yeah. Without a doubt.
Was he educated? Yup. Thanks to our parents’ and grandparents’ collective tax dollars.
Was he trained? Do you really need to ask that?
And I suspect that he had maturity. I don’t mean chronological. He was 72 for heaven’s sake. He wouldn’t have survived the stuff he did if he didn’t have maturity. But somewhere along the path to where we were that night, he forgot the basics. Or he let his ego get the best of him. He had all of his faculties, so it wasn’t senility. He lost perspective. A simple 9-1-1 call would have brought a deputy sheriff and an explanation for the boys being parked in front of his house. Instead he took matters into his own hands unnecessarily, recklessly and illegally. Poor judgement, to say the least.
Fortunately, no one got hurt.
DON’T BE THE GENERAL.
Six years ago I was on another shooting scene. This one with more tragic results. You all know the story. Seven PM on a rainy February Sunday night. Man in his car, headed to the store to get some items. Sees a young Black man, fully grown, walking between two buildings in his townhome community. Observes the young man as he walks, somewhat furtively, through the community and calls the nonemergency number for the police department. Police are on the way. Suspicious person call. Happens every day of the week. Man loses sight of younger man and exits car to try to observe. Call taker asks if he is following the youth and tells him it’s not necessary to do so. Somewhere in the rain and the night, a fight ensues and two complete strangers struggle for control over each other. They fall to the ground. Youth is winning, overpowering the man. Pounds the man’s head against the concrete sidewalk. Panicked shouts for help in the dark.
Calls to 9-1-1 from residents in their warm, dry homes. Over the phone, you can hear the panic in the voice from outside, calling for someone to help. Man carries concealed. Legally, licensed. Man decides he has to use deadly force to survive. His decision. You hear the gunshot in the background over the 9-1-1 call. Chilling to know that it’s the end of a life, recorded for time. I can’t second guess what he was thinking or going through. Or why he got out of his car to begin with. He has to live with his decisions to carry, to act and to live.
We didn’t arrest him that night, and after days of investigation and multiple discussions with our prosecutor, we determined that his actions met the tenets of Florida’s self-defense statute. Political powers that be took the case from us and he eventually survived a jury trial for second degree murder, but not until the world hated him. But at the end of the day, if he had stayed in his car and simply been a good witness for the police, these last few paragraphs would not be here. A judgement call to be sure.
All the warrior mindset, all the education, all the training and all the judgement in the world can’t prepare you completely for what happens after you use deadly force. Your judgement will be called into question. Your intentions, your beliefs, your entire life will be scrutinized and publicized. All the training and education you have had will be considered. Your politics and your mental health will be questioned. Your ex-spouse will be located and interviewed on CNN. This is when your decision to carry must be a personal COMMITMENT to carry. Statistically, it is unlikely you will ever have to use your weapon in anger. In the miniscule chance that you do have to, your life will change forever. Be prepared for that.
Before you make a COMMITMENT to carry concealed, think about the consequences. The reason you carry. The life you may save. The life you may take. Make sure you are ready to start, or continue, to carry. Make a COMMITMENT to do so. Don’t let it be just another decision in your life.
Remember, the concealed carry COMMITMENT is a pledge to yourself and to those around you that should revolve around these four core principles. In preparing yourself for the worst-case scenario your odds of surviving a deadly encounter will increase. You have developed a warrior’s mindset. You are educated about the law and the way you want to carry. You trained to fight and prepared yourself for a deadly encounter. You are aware and prepared to use good judgement to do one of three things (avoidance, de-escalation or as a last resort, Deadly Force). All of the core principles that were presented will add to the COMMITMENT you have as a concealed carrier, which is final value needed to go home alive. STAY SAFE!
Bob O’Connor is a highly experienced criminal investigator, and has had the opportunity to be involved at both the investigator and major case supervisory/management roles in multiple high profile, media-intensive investigations during his career. Those cases and the various assignments over a 40 year career provide Bob with a unique perspective of the criminal justice system and the interaction between the police and the public. He has worked at the local, county, state and federal levels successfully, using multiagency cooperation as the basis for mutual accomplishments.
Retired FDLE Special Agent Supervisor