One of my thoughtful readers asked me a serious question and it is the title of this article. I want to help him and others with my opinions and considerations about his question and my title.
Say, you are required to be walking in the not well-lit and somewhat sleazy area of town in the evening. You wanted to avoid it, but you cannot. As you turn the corner, you suddenly see just 6 feet in front of you an apparently frail older man in his late 70s, with a cane gasping for breath on the ground, being verbally abused and cussed at by a big, strong, physically-fit much younger man, who may have shoved the older man to the ground or hit him. The young guy aggressively turns, stares directly at you with an evil look, and shakes the big rock in his hand. Thankfully, you are in your mid-thirties, are physically fit, very good with your licensed concealed carry gun, and have been practicing your fast draw. Should you intervene with your concealed carry gun?
Just as you start to turn the corner, you hear a shot fired, and then you turn the corner and suddenly see a rough-looking, muscular man with a scraggly beard and one clenched fist, younger than you in his twenties, with what you believe to be gang tattoos and piercings on 90% of his exposed body, hatefully spitting at and pointing his gun at a guy on the ground to possibly fire a (maybe a second) shot, while looking down at the well-dressed guy in a suit on the ground just 8 feet from you who looks like he is bleeding; should you intervene with your concealed carry gun?
Well, you accept that the usual 3-3-3 Rule of self-defense applies in these encounters, where you have a quick 3 seconds or less to respond, at a close-up encounter distance of less than 3 yards, and usually 3 shots max are fired and it is over. What tremendously frightening and complex situations, although realistic, to find yourself in.
What do you do… within 3 seconds?
It would be nice to have the time to logically and calmly think through the pros and cons of each situation, critically analyze each set of factors and possible responses, and take your time to make a valid rational decision in each unique scenario. However, this is not a fun television or movie scene and you do not have the luxury of time. It is happening right now in real time, people appear to be injured, and you must make an immediate decision. You really want to help folks, in general, and especially in these situations. Thankfully your family is not with you, which would introduce even more considerations and safety concerns.
Again, what do you do… quickly?
What are your considerations?
How do you respond?
You know that you will definitely protect yourself and your family members when dangerous situations arise. Without any doubt whatsoever, you are committed to your and your family’s personal safety and will take appropriate actions to defend them, including appropriate use of deadly force. You have the duty, right, and responsibility to protect your loved ones and yourself from death and great bodily harm, even with deadly force.
Given your concern for protecting your personal safety and the existing situations #1 and #2, should you get involved now in assisting someone else, a stranger, in a violent situation you are not even directly involved in? What action(s) should you take? What about using your concealed carry gun to defend others? They are strangers to you who do not know your values and standards and who you do not know.
Good Samaritan Obligation & Duty to Help
Do you have an obligation to help others in violent encounters? This involves morals, ethics, legalities in your state, and your beliefs and values… and, of course, the specific situation and its variables. Most think the “Good Samaritan” rule or law applies in deadly force encounters, so if you intervene there is not a problem since you’re trying to help.
There is also a general belief in our society that there are a limited number of legal situations where people have an “obligation” to help others who are in dangerous situations. But, the obligation to help others in Florida, for example, only is provided where there is a special, legally-defined relationship between the one needing help and the one providing help, according to my attorney friends and also KevinKuliklaw.com. My non-legal layman’s understanding is that the GENERAL rule of thumb in Florida and most states when it comes to one’s duty to help another is that USUALLY there is NO legal duty (but check with your state’s laws.) I have trouble dealing with this as a caring Christian, but understand I must also be concerned about protecting myself in uncertain situations involving strangers. Complex and very personal. There seems to be no duty because there is no requirement by law that (without a specific relationship) someone should be prosecuted for not putting their life in danger to help another person. So, check with your particular states’ laws. There are certain conditions that must exist generally in MOST states (and in my state of Florida.) Know that I am not giving legal advice nor opinions, but this non-legal layman understands, for example in Florida, there is generally a DUTY to help or rescue ONLY where:
- the helper is the one who created the dangerous situation in the first place;
- there is a special relationship between you the helper and the person needing help, e.g. teacher and student, parent and child; OR
- the helper began providing aid to the person in need, and as a result, others who might have offered help have retreated and allowed you to perform the help/rescue, among other circumstances.
Several states, including Florida, have Good Samaritan laws or acts (GSL) which provide for immunity from CIVIL and/or CRIMINAL liabilities for those who voluntarily provide help to others. Most states do want to encourage emergency care to be provided without a fear of litigation or other damages, so immunity from CIVIL liability is usually there for those who offer emergency care and treatment during an emergency situation. BUT, please understand that GSLs do have their EXCEPTIONS where someone may face criminal and/or civil liabilities for helping someone. Again, check with your states’ laws.
Laws allow people to use force to protect others they “reasonably” believe to be in imminent danger. Distinguishing between what the law permits us to do and what a “reasonable” person should do often is conflicting. We do not want to respond JUST legally. How, when, and to what extent we get involved in third-party violent encounters to defend others involve our very subjective judgments and many variables, rather than a simple emotional yes or no or legal response for quick action. Morals and ethics are involved. Ethics are right or wrong values, rules, behaviors, and expectations of our community or group we belong to. While morals are our individual standards of acceptable values, behaviors, and beliefs, which have more influence on our responses as a helper. So, we do not all morally respond the same way to similar circumstances. What is “reasonable” for one, is not for another. And to complicate things even more “We all behave in a way that make sense to ourselves.” This is based on the sum of our controllable and uncontrollable experiences, education, training, genetic traits inherited, social abilities, jobs held, attitudes, level of learning, intelligence, culture, gender, race, geographical locations experienced, opinions, values, etc. COMPLEX! And further, “We do not know what we do not know” (because we have not experienced all things and only recognize our own limited world of reality) which may hamper our perceptions and abilities for expanding our perspectives, learning, and openness.
Remembering that most of us do not want to live in a society where people refuse to get involved because they are afraid for their safety. And that we do not want to live where bad guys/gals prowl the streets at will, doing and taking whatever they want, and using force against citizens, without caring about law and order. And we do want to be practical and reasonable in our approaches for dealing with evil and violence. And that we want to fight the never-ending battle for… Cue the Superman Theme– “… truth, justice, and the American way.” How do we practically, legally, and morally deal with the two imminent situations presented in the opening paragraphs?
What to do? For one thing, we have some strong clues that both of these dudes are “bad guys.” They deserve being dealt with firmly and directly for sure. But do we get involved and, if so, how do we do it? Do we draw our gun? How specifically do we get involved in the defense of others? Make your decisions now for each situation and then continue reading for my guidelines, opinions, and decisions that follow.
TIP: It is important that you formulate your general guidelines now ahead of time (as much as is possible) for dealing with future situations for deciding if and how you should use your concealed carry gun in the defense of others. Remember, you are not a police officer. Of course, you cannot anticipate all possible or even many future situations, but if you as a concealed carry patriot have your own General Guidelines ahead of time, it will save you some time and distress in decision making.
Disclaimer: The guidelines and information in this article are not intended to be legal opinions nor legal advice, but are my personal opinions and I am not an attorney nor criminal defense lawyer. This article is meant solely for general information and educational purposes and I strongly recommend that you seek legal counsel from an attorney in your particular state and jurisdiction about applicable laws and shooting and using your own weapons and firearms, self defense, and concealed carry.
First, my layman’s opinion is that the justification for using deadly force to defend someone else is basically the same as you would follow for using your handgun to defend yourself. This varies from state to state, so understand the laws of your jurisdiction and state.
Basically, the Elements of Defense of Others should include:
- Belief that the other person is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm;
- A Reasonable belief under the circumstances;
- Use of only as much force as a reasonable person would use to stop the threat.
Note: Some states still follow the “alter-ego rule.” With this rule, the defender can use force only if the victim could have used force and can use only as much force as the victim could have used to defend himself.
First, you want to AVOID the dangerous situation if possible. In these two situations, however, you are immediately thrust in to them. Keep in mind that you draw and use your gun to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. You accept that deadly force is the LAST RESORT for use only when you need to save your life or others.
In the situations described, you do not know all the facts and what occurred before your arrival, as much as you think you do from what you saw or what occurred instantaneously as you arrived. You do not know what happened before your arrival or what caused or precipitated the demonstrated behaviors or actions. You think you know who the “bad” guy is and who the “good” guy is, but you do not have enough data and facts to know for certain. You are subjectively interpreting the whole picture, from a very limited sample of actions and motivations. You are making assumptions and when you assume things, you could be in big trouble. What you think is reasonable may NOT be reasonable when you learn more. There is HIGH RISK for you and you must justify and usually prove your use of deadly force was reasonable and justifiable.
Remember, you are responsible and held accountable for every bullet that leaves your barrel. Would a reasonable person in the same situation, knowing what you knew and nothing more at that very time, have made the same decision as you made to use your gun? Did you have other options? Could you or the individual safely retreat or leave the situation? Only YOU can make that determination in each of your diverse situations. And YOU will be held accountable for your choices. Everything you have is at risk. I am not telling you what to do or what not to do, but rather encouraging you to generally think of these things ahead of time before any violent encounter. It is so very SITUATION specific. Whenever you introduce a weapon into any situation, you automatically escalate it. And you want to de-escalate these situations. However, recognize that if someone is shooting someone else, raping them, or stabbing them, then at least drawing your gun is probably acceptable, but again it is situation specific with the many variables involve. Foremostly, quickly assess the threat of death or great bodily harm.
Second, it is my non-legal layman’s opinion that you do not want to endanger your safety more than is necessary to control the unknown situation. Generally, you do not want to physically jump between an attacker and a victim since your very life could be at stake, because they do not know who you are or what your motivations are. Just your presence alone and giving commands like “stop,” “drop the gun,” “get away from him,” etc. may make the attacker stop what they are doing… or explain that they are the “good” guy, etc. You are letting them know that their actions are being witnessed and you want them to stop. So you do not really know if they are the GOOD guy or the BAD guy. Appearance can be deceiving. If you honestly and genuinely believed that the guy you shot was the BAD guy and it turned out that he was not the bad guy but the GOOD guy, you probably still will be held accountable for your shooting and must justify your shot. The court, judge and/or jury will sort it out in court. Also, remember when the police arrive that they too do not know your involvement in the situation, do not know if you are the good or bad guy, and they may even consider you a threat. So do not be argumentative, follow their commands, surrender to them, cooperate with them, and IDENTIFY yourself to them initially (without a gun or weapon in your hand.) Remember, the situational variables matter.
A third guideline is to consider that your action of drawing your gun could increase the risk to the person you are trying to help or to others in the area. You do not want to endanger the victim nor other innocent bystanders in the area. You do not know how the attacker will respond when you approach him or draw your gun. He could turn and fire at you, so be prepared to defend yourself if the attacker escalates his attack. IF the situation dictates that you must shoot at the attacker, recognize that he will be close to the victim and, perhaps, other innocents in the area and line of fire. Also, recognize that those innocent bystanders could misinterpret your actions, not knowing who you are nor your motivations, nor degree of involvement. Just as you do not have all the data you need, so too may bystanders not have the data they need. One could possibly be a concealed carry good guy that unknowingly shoots at you, also a concealed carry good guy, whom he thought was a bad guy.
My Decisions & Opinions
The two situations presented in the opening paragraphs are merely general training scenarios with incomplete information, without firsthand exposure at the scene, detailed facts, and feedback from those involved. So my non-legal opinions and decisions are based on limited situational information and facts, absent actually being there to interpret mannerisms, clues, tone of voice, etc. Also, my ethics, morals, and legal understandings and values influence my decisions.
Situation #1: I would not draw my gun from concealment and would certainly not immediately shoot it. I want to de-escalate the situation and use only as much force as necessary. But, I would be very cautious, ready to draw it, and very closely monitor and be aware of the changing situation. He does have a rock in his hand which might be used against me. If I felt my life was immediately threatened or if he would inflict serious bodily injury on me with the rock or weapon, I would be prepared to draw and shoot as a last resort. I do not know if the younger man shoved the older guy to the ground, if the older guy accidentally slipped to the ground and cut himself, or if the younger guy hit him or not. I do not know which man is the victim, although it appears to be the older guy on the ground. Just because the young guy looks evil at me and shakes a big rock in his hand, does not mean that he is threatening me with death and great bodily harm. But, I would be very ready to draw and shoot if the situation changes and the young guy begins to attack me or threatens me with the rock or any weapon. An individual’s body language, verbal clues, and mannerisms are important in any situation and must be interpreted. We do not have this information! There are many unknowns here, as with most quick self-defense encounters. I would consider the big rock a potential weapon and he is close to me within 6 feet. I would command that he drop the rock and calm down. Also, I would seek medical attention for the older guy, since he is breathing heavily and his life may be in jeopardy… and remind the supposed attacker of this and ask for his help.
Situation #2: This situation is more complex than the first one. Did one of the two involved individuals fire the shot? Did anyone actually get hit? You cannot “judge a book totally by its cover,” so just because the young muscular supposed attacker has tattoos, piercings, and a scraggly beard does not mean that he is automatically the bad guy or the one who fired the shot. Nor that the guy in the suit is the good guy. He may have fired the shot? The fact that a gun shot occurred just before I saw them must be seriously considered. Someone fired a shot and you do not know which one of them or if someone else fired it. Quickly assess the situation!
I must put safety above everything and attempt to get the young guy to put down his gun. I would also seriously scan the area for another possible shooter who may have fired the shot or a witness. There definitely was a shot by someone and the young guy does have a gun pointed at the guy in the suit. I do not know who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, but I would draw my gun at the ready and give loud, assertive commands for him to drop the gun, stop pointing the gun at the guy, and for both individuals to calm down and relax. I would scan the guy in the suit carefully to see if he has a gun, weapon, or injury because of the gunshot heard. I would not aggressively point my concealed carry gun at the muscular guy nor at the other guy in the suit, but it would be drawn, finger on the frame, so I could determine if there was any threat and be ready to fire. I certainly would not shoot it, but it would be in the ready with my finger off the trigger and on the frame. I would be very cautious, ready to shoot it, and very closely monitor and be aware of the changing situation
If I felt my life was threatened or if the young guy or the guy in the suit acted as to inflict serious bodily injury on me, I would be prepared to shoot as a last resort. I do not know if the younger man shoved the guy in the suit to the ground or if perhaps the guy in the suit just fell to the ground or fired a gun. Maybe there was a third party who shot? I do not know which man is the victim, although it appears to be the guy in the suit on the ground. Neither the young muscular guy with the gun nor the guy in the suit have threatened me nor pointed a gun at me. But, I would be very ready to shoot if the situation changes and the young guy begins to point the gun in my direction, attacks me or verbally threatens me with the gun in hand. It would be very important to try to read the verbal and non-verbal signals, tone, mannerisms, and clues from the young guy with the gun in his hand. I would firmly ask that he drop the gun and calm down. De-escalate the situation. I would offer my assistance to both guys in a helpful manner, but be prepared to respond accordingly. These are my non-legal layman opinions and not suggested actions for you.
What would you do in each situation, given the information presented and uncertainties?
Every encounter is situation specific and subjective, but we can plan ahead to a small degree by knowing key concepts and considerations in advance. I merely offer my opinions and do not have the answers. I am not an attorney, am merely a non-legal layman, and my purposes are to help and stimulate thought for education and training. We as concealed carry folks are not police or law enforcement officers and our mission is not to save society. Nor to right all wrongs and even the score. Nor to prove how good a shot we are nor to display our handgun skills and prowess. Nor to be the savior for mankind. I don’t know about you, but my goal is to arrive alive at the end of every day and to protect my life and the lives of my loved ones.
I know MY moral, ethical, legal, and reasonable standards. To be prepared, just in case, rather than flaunt my gun or skills. Safety First for me and all parties involved! I want to know and practice when I should appropriately draw and use my gun and anticipate some situations. I want to understand and use the 3-3-3 Rule, the Good Samaritan Rule, know the specific requirements to determine when it is my DUTY to help others, and be aware of the “reasonableness” doctrine. I want to deal with specific situations and facts rather than emotions, machoistic aggressiveness, guesses, speculations, and subjective inferences.
I do not want to jump to conclusions and shoot nor to hesitate for a prolonged period, before making my decisions and taking action. What terrible situations to be in. I want to avoid them and not because I am a scared “weenie.” I want to remember some general considerations I have thought about ahead of time, so I can respond better and quicker to challenging, unexpected and sudden deadly force encounters. I hope my thoughts and opinions have helped you at least initially to explore and consider when you should use your concealed carry gun in the defense of others. None of us will know for certain how we will respond when we run into a situation with limited information where we could defend others, until we are actually involved with someone else and the decision to defend them arises. Success my friends!
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2017 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.