Think Before You Act!

On occasion, I think back to situations that I’ve experienced and wondered how things might have gone differently, specifically in the context of being an armed citizen. Recently, having finally finished Andrew Branca’s excellent “The Law of Self Defense” book, I lay awake contemplating potential different outcomes to a property theft that I suffered several years ago. I think this can be a useful exercise to prepare for future situations. As has been said many times, the body cannot go where the mind has not already been. This preemptive visualization or after action review can help you respond more quickly and more effectively to similar situations in the future. In fact, the title of this post reflects that line of thinking.

In this particular incident that I’m using as an example, I woke up one morning to go to the gym and found my relatively new car sitting on rocks in my driveway with the wheels and tires having been stolen during the night. I didn’t hear anything during the night and my German Shepherd was still being crated in our bedroom at the back of the house, so he didn’t alert us to anything with barking either. After I discovered the theft, I was muttering about shallow graves and rudely interrogating suspect neighbors, all while fantasizing about interrupting the perpetrators with rifle in hand. While getting my car fixed was an enormous pain in the ass, eventually the theft was covered by insurance with a police report filed. Apparently, my car’s wheels had the same lug pattern as a different model and were valuable on the black market.

DSCN0619
The crime scene…

Let’s consider some alternative outcomes, however, that would have hinged on me or my dog hearing the thieves at work. I’m not sure how long it took them to jack up my car and remove the wheels, but it had to be at least a few minutes. What should I have done if I had been able to interrupt their thievery?

Let’s look at the legalities of this in my particular jurisdiction. In my state, in the curtilage of my property, I have a duty to retreat before using deadly force. And I can’t use deadly force to prevent property theft. So what options would I be left with?

The first, and probably best, would be to arm myself, immediately call 911, and surreptitiously observe them from the safety of my home and possibly try to take some photos or at least get a good description to provide to the 911 dispatcher. I can replace the wheels on my car. Hell, I can replace my car. I can’t do either if I’m dead or incarcerated. The only reason to arm myself is simply worst case preparation, should they escalate to invading my home.

The other option would be varying levels of interaction designed to halt the theft. Any of these variations would incur increasing amounts of risk. I could have turned on my exterior house lights to show that I was awake and aware and hoped that they would have just fled. Much more than that would have been very tenuous from a legal perspective. Had I confronted them with a weapon on my person, I could potentially be deemed the aggressor if I had to defend myself with deadly force or if a physical altercation ensued. After all, I started out safe in my locked home and chose to intervene to protect property. Had I gone out with a weapon displayed, then this could have gone very badly, with potential charges ranging from aggravated assault to manslaughter or murder if I got into a gun battle over a set of wheels. And if a gun battle did erupt, where would the thieves’ rounds be going? In that instance, they would have been facing my home, with my wife and dog inside. No es bueno. As an armed civilian, holding someone at gun point is tenuous at best. I’m sure we could all come up with scenarios where it might be appropriate, but I think that reality will often dictate otherwise. If you disagree with any of my above contentions, I would suggest that you research the legalities of your jurisdiction and think critically about potential consequences. 

Some may suggest letting the dog loose upon the thieves… I have addressed my thoughts on the role of dogs in home defense on the blog before, but suffice it to say that my dogs are for alarm only, not attack. At the time this incident occurred, my German Shepherd was still a puppy (hence the crate) and was certainly not bite trained. Even if he had been, exactly what would I have done if the dog did bite or otherwise detain a perpetrator? Again, deadly force or the potential for great bodily harm in defense of property was not legally defensible, and liability concerns aside, I considered my German Shepherd a member of the family and wouldn’t have wanted to expose him to that risk.

Texas is the only state that I’m aware of where one can use deadly force to prevent property theft, and only under a very narrow set of circumstances. Now, while I think that Texas is on the right track in this regard, it is not the law of the land. In the situation that affected me, no good would have come from confrontation, no matter how infuriating that conclusion may be. This is why Branca makes a widespread suggestion to NOT use deadly force to protect property in his book. It is the safest option that incurs the least legal risk. Depending on your home layout, this may even apply to intruders in your home that want to steal your stuff but have no interest in fighting you. In Branca’s example, intruders in his home that do not cross the boundary of coming upstairs are not threats. Once they cross that boundary, game on. Until then, property theft just isn’t worth it. Everyone’s individual situation and boundaries will be unique and different. If I ever have intruders in my home, it’s pretty much game on immediately since my home is a single level and my kid’s rooms are on the other side of the house from mine. I will aggressively move through my home to ensure their safety while dealing with anyone in my way. Outside the walls of my home, even on my own property, the rules are not the same – right, wrong, or indifferent.

If you’re going to own and carry a gun, you need to think about these things before they happen. This mental rehearsal can prevent a lot of tragedy and heartache, as well as potential legal and financial ruin. While it is true that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, have a plan. However much it may make your blood boil and offend your sense right and wrong, realize that using a gun to defend your possessions is a course fraught with danger on multiple fronts. At the end of the day, I’m actually glad that I never heard the thieves in my driveway. At that point in my life, I might have very well grabbed my gun and gone outside. These days, I envision a more nuanced and mature approach with appropriate tactical considerations for the safety of myself and my family.

Finally, if you haven’t read “The Law of Self Defense,” you need to. Of course, it is available through our Amazon Affiliate link, should you wish to support the blog at no extra cost to you.

Thanks for reading, and as always, we welcome your comments and questions.

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6 thoughts on “Think Before You Act!

  1. Great post again, good personal experience that you could reflect on and learn from. Defending the wheels of your car in your drive way is not a great idea. 30 miles in the desert on a camping trip might be different.

    You may want to read Steven Harris’ posts on Modernserviceweapons.com He sets up. Can/May/Should/Must ladder of action. One one Can currently up http://modernserviceweapons.com/?p=17444

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  2. This is not a well thought out article. The response to a property theft in progress is to call 911 and report it to the police. Turn on you exterior light to let thieves know that they have been detected. You then decide if you accept the risk to going out to protect your property. If you decide to venture out, you go armed, but not gun in hand, but concealed in a holster or in a bag or towel, but in your hand. Protection of property allows you to use any reasonable non lethal force. You may effect an citizens arrest. If they thieves use violence against you, you are no longer protecting property, but yourself. If the thief produced a tool that can cause death or grave bodily harm, you may retreat if that is reasonable. Otherwise against a lethal attack on yourself by an armed aggressor, or unarmed aggressors with a superior disparity of force, you may produce a gun, and if seeing your gun does not repel their aggression, you may shoot the more aggressive of the group in they are unarmed, or the armed aggressor. You may not shoot the last unarmed one, since there is no longer a disparity of force. You failed to differentiate between protecting property and protecting your life. You may protect both, but you can not protect property with lethal force, unless you live in the great state of Texas.

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    1. Elmer, did you read what I wrote? Nothing is really contradictory to what you suggest, beyond the fact that I suggest doing as you initially suggest, calling 911 and remaining safe from a potential gunfight. Yes, the distinctions you make are accurate, but by using non lethal force you introduce the potential need for lethal force. Given the realities of those legal and financial battles, that’s a battle I would prefer to avoid. As I’m not in TX, and have a legal requirement to retreat, better to not create a need to retreat in the first place. I see your argument above as contextually fallacious given the scenario I presented. At any rate, thank you for your comment.

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      1. Hi John, I apologize and I do agree with what you wrote, which is what Branca teaches and many others like Stop the Threat several years ago. There’s nothing outside worth spending the rest of your life in prison because your lawyer was a deadbeat, the jury crazy and the prosecutor highly skilled as Branca has notably said. I think the justice system expects you to protect your property by securing it and not leaving it out tempting crooks. So if you venture out to protect things, you were really looking to have a gunfight and be a hero. Gabe Suarez also has a recent blog saying the same thing. Thanks for your article.

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  3. This is to followup my previous comments about the limits of the concept of defense of property. It’s good to think through these scenarios before they happen so you will “think before you act” and avoid unpleasant consecuencias, especially if you live in an anti-gun location, or have a prosecutor who wants to make an anti-gun political statement by prosecuting you the gun owner. In the following case, a naked man attacked a gun owner’s dog. The gun owner tried to protect his property and was also attacked, and because of this was justified in shooting the naked man. But, and this is a big but, as Greg explains, protection of property is different by state, so one must know the laws of the state where you live.
    Your Tactical Training Scenario: Naked Man Attacks the Family Dog
    Posted on August 1, 2017 by Greg Ellifritz
    Link: http://www.activeresponsetraining.net/your-tactical-training-scenario-naked-man-attacks-the-family-dog?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ActiveResponseTraining+%28Active+Response+Training%29

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    1. Elmer,

      Absolutely! Greg is a phenomenal trainer that I respect and train with as often as I can. His analysis in the article you linked to is absolutely on point, and further reinforces why letting my German Shepherd loose outside of the home during the theft of my property would have been a terrible idea. Thanks for your comments.

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