Shoot/Don’t Shoot Decisions…

I recently listened to a Ballistic Radio interview with Larry Lindenman of Point Driven Training during which, among other topics, he discussed shoot/don’t shoot decisions. During the interview, he described how he had queried students while teaching a class, and only two of the students had ever actually pulled their gun but not fired. While this situation is no doubt common within the armed community, it is not well documented and not often discussed. As I listened further to the interview, I was struck by the fact that I actually fall into the camp of having drawn my weapon for real but not needing to fire. My experience is perhaps more relevant to Claude Werner’s work regarding “Negative Outcomes,” even though I was fortunate to have a good outcome. I thought it might be illustrative to describe it here, to see what possible lessons can be learned.

My own incident happened probably 15-16 years ago. At the time, I had obtained my CCW permit, carried routinely, and had already attended a few training classes. The morning that the incident occurred, I had spent the night at my girlfriend’s apartment that she shared with a roommate. My girlfriend’s bedroom adjoined the upstairs bathroom and had its own separate doorway between the bathroom and bedroom. A second bathroom door opened into the hallway. I explain the layout only because it is key to the events that transpired. My girlfriend and I were still asleep that morning, but it was late enough that there was ample ambient light coming in from the windows. I woke to her screaming with a male that I did not recognize in bed between us. My pistol was still in its holster, still on my pants on the floor next to the bed. Almost instantly, I rolled out of bed into a standing position, pulling my pistol from its holster and pointing in at the intruder, and loudly challenging him at gunpoint. Specifically, I’m pretty sure that I said, “Who the f*** are you and what the f*** do you want?” He was only partially dressed and had a look of utter surprise and confusion on his face. He was not armed. My girlfriend had moved out of the way and up against the wall that the bed abutted, but was still on the bed. It was about this time that my girlfriend recognized her roommate`s new boyfriend, who I had not met previously.

Apparently, unbeknownst to us, he had come home drunk with the roommate the night before and upon exiting the bathroom, was still intoxicated or asleep enough that he didn`t realize that he used the wrong door and was trying to cuddle up with the wrong girl in the wrong bed. We made our peace with the events later that morning, with apologies all around, but I still occasionally wonder what would have happened had I shot him as an intruder. I am not a lawyer, and I have no idea how castle doctrine works in shared residences, but I can assure you that I did not take kindly to being woken from sleep with a stranger literally in our bed. At the same time, I’m glad I didn’t shoot the dude. I am thankful that I took the time to challenge him instead of just immediately shooting. He was obviously not armed, I could see his hands in a “surrender” position, and he was immediately compliant with my instructions as we figured out the mistake. Ambient light allowed for easy identification.

What this really comes down to for me is the need for critical thinking on demand while processing subconscious information. This is also an example of the absolute need to positively identify your target before you shoot. I obviously did make some mistakes. Specifically, my verbal commands were not clear and concise. Instead of asking his identity and purpose, I should have just ordered him to stop and not move. Lindenman has some excellent posts on this subject on his website under the heading of “In Extremis Communication.”

While some might argue that I should have immediately gone hands on with the intruder in such close proximity, I am of the firm opinion that you cannot help friends and family if you’re not first safe from harm. This is a difficult concept to grasp, but nonetheless true. At the time, what I wound up doing almost instinctively was creating distance while securing my weapon, allowing time for a positive identification and an accurate decision to not shoot. All’s well that ends well, but that is the closest I’ve ever come to shooting someone, and if I had, it would have been a tragic mistake.

In addition, I am sure the situation and my actions would have played out differently had the intruder actually been planning an attack or rape instead of simply blundering into a drunken accident. Had he been attacking me, then obviously the immediate hands on approach would have been more appropriate. Had he been attacking my girlfriend, then either a direct physical counter-attack or perhaps a contact distance shot would have been needed. Both of these possibilities presuppose that he wouldn’t have immediately rendered me unconscious or dead upon entering the room instead of waking me. I’m glad I didn’t have to experience these alternate realities, and as Lindenman discusses in the podcast interview, the mere presentation of a firearm changes the dynamic dramatically.

Tuco said “When it’s time to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” If I may suggest an evolution of that sentiment, if it’s time to shoot, then shoot. However, if it’s time to talk, then talk. But be prepared to shoot!

  • When you need your gun, you will probably be reacting rather than acting. Training provides a framework within which you can react appropriately.
  • The fact that you’ve drawn your gun does not necessarily mean that gunfire is immediately warranted. Lindenman describes this as a “don’t shoot yet” situation.
  • Whether you use ambient light, or some other light source, positive target identification is imperative.
  • Just to harp on the above point, rule 4 states that you must “Know your target and what lies beyond.” Indeed, in the situation I describe above, I not only had to identify my target, I also had to ensure that my girlfriend was not in the line of fire behind him.
  • Having a script to rely on when you are involved in a potentially violent encounter makes the interaction flow more smoothly for all involved and frees up your mind to deal with more important shit. From everything I’ve read and heard, Craig Douglas and Larry Lindenman are the go-to subject matter experts here. I hope to train with both of them at some point in the future.
  • Secure your residence and sleeping quarters… I don’t remember whether the bathroom door had a lock, but perhaps if it did and it had been engaged, this entire situation could have been avoided. Ideally you will be woken up by some form of alarm system before the intruder is in your bed!
  • Consider securing your gun in a bedside lock box or portable gun safe. Had the intruder in my situation intended us harm, he could have easily taken my unsecured gun as we slept. The same can be said of children and house guests.

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