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Posted on December 18, 2020 by in In Self Defense

Fools Rush In: The Wisdom of Avoidance

Fools Rush In: The Wisdom of Avoidance

Firearms instructor Claude Werner is not afraid of a fight, but the retired Army Captain with 10 years service in Special Operations quotes his mentor John Farnam when discussing managing physical conflicts as a civilian. “What is the best way to win a gunfight? Don’t be there.”

Tatiana Whitlock, firearms instructor and National Director of Girl and a Gun Women’s Shooting League, agrees. Tatiana says, when you encounter a dangerous situation “and remove yourself from it before you even have to make contact: that’s the ultimate goal. That’s a fight you won hands down every time — the one you don’t have to engage with.”

In every self-defense case I’ve studied or been involved with, there is a moment where the defender claims that they had to pull the trigger to save themselves from serious bodily injury or death. However, in virtually every case, there was also a decision the defender made before using deadly force that made the fatal encounter all but inevitable. Here are examples from cases we’ve explored in the past:

Michael Drejka chose to chastise Britany Jacobs before Markis McGlockton pushed him to the ground and Drejka replied with a bullet to McGlockton’s chest. Ted Wafer chose to open the door to an unknown trespasser in the moment before the shooting of Renisha McBride. Michael Dunn chose to park next to a car full of teens listening to loud music before verbal threats led to the shooting of Jordan Davis. Even a justified defender like Charles Dorsey could have potentially avoided shooting his neighbor’s inebriated friend had he retreated to a hard corner deep inside his home rather than waiting at the front door where the stranger was yelling and trying to gain entry.

Let’s start with Drejka. Claude Werner warns his clients against “playing police officer,” or even attempting to “enforce societal mores.” As a concealed carrier, Michael Drejka was setting himself up for failure when he approached Jacobs for parking in the handicapped spot. An altercation was likely, and to what end? There were plenty of other spaces available that day, there was no immediate demand for the designated spot, and had there been. Jacobs would have moved if someone needed it. “If there is no upside,” Claude says, “don’t get involved.”

Ted Wafer was safe in his home before he opened his front door to meet an unknown threat. He said himself at trial that he feared there could be multiple people out there, banging on his door at a quarter to four in the morning. Tatiana Whitlock, whose career as a firearms trainer began as a single mother with a concern about protecting her two small children, said that armed defenders need to decide what boundaries they are willing to defend. “Where are you defining those boundaries?” she asks. “And do you want to be the person that goes in and hunts down the problem, not knowing what it is you’re walking into?”

When Jordan Davis started shouting threats at Michael Dunn while parked in a Jacksonville convenience store parking lot, Dunn had the option to put the vehicle in reverse and move to a different spot. Instead, Dunn chose to stand his ground and engage in the verbal conflict that quickly escalated to violence. “It’s not a strategy or a tactic that I personally want to ever even consider as part of my repertoire, because if I have to retreat, if I can retreat, I’m going to retreat.”

I asked Claude about that word “retreat.” I said it sounds like losing; it connotes cowardice. Claude responded by quoting Major General Oliver P. Smith, the commander of the 1st Marine Division during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War. Surrounded by 120,000 Chinese troops, Smith found a way to break out and make a strategic withdrawal to the Port of Hungnam. “We’re not retreating,” he famously said. “We’re just advancing in a different direction.”  Major General Smith had nothing to gain by defending ground surrounded by the enemy.

Claude says that protecting your family also includes protecting them from the aftermath of a deadly shooting. Claude says, “I just assume that I’m going to have to interact with the legal system on a fairly unpleasant basis and expensive basis anytime I have a shooting.” He’s right. Even in the clearly justified shooting of Gary Espinoza, Charles Dorsey had to hire a lawyer to assist him through a five-and-a-half week police investigation while mitigating negative press and public backlash. Legally, Dorsey had no obligation to “retreat” deeper into his house to try to avoid the shooting. However, had he done so, Espinoza would have very likely realized he had entered the wrong home, and Dorsey would have avoided the trauma and expense of committing homicide in this foyer.

In the security recording of the Espinoza shooting, Mrs. Dorsey screams out, “Why did you do that?” There’s pure horror in her voice. Mr. Dorsey can explain to Mrs. Dorsey that he was justified in protecting her, but if she is like my wife, I know every time they cross over that doorstep, she remembers the time he killed the neighbor’s friend over a drunken mistake. If it were me, I’d have to move.

The lesson for concealed carriers and armed home defenders is that you win every gunfight you avoid. You should never instigate an unnecessary confrontation. You should not leave a place of safety to meet a threat, and if you can safely retreat to a more secure place, you should.  There are painful consequences to using deadly force, even when you are clearly and legally justified. Protecting your family means protecting them, not just from bad guys, but from the ugly aftermath of a deadly encounter as well.


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