Guidelines For The Armed Citizen
FOR nine and a half years I had a monthly column in a mainstream gun periodical. I have also contributed to numerous other firearms publications over the years, and as many know, lawful handgun, carbine, and shotgun use is integral to the American Combato System (as is knife, stick, tomahawk, and unconventional weapons use). I have been trained and am certified by both the late Colonels Jeff Cooper and Rex Applegate as an instructor of their systems of handgun use. (For the record: I only regard the Applegate/Fairbairn/Sykes or “point shooting” method of handgun use as practical, authentic, and valid for close range interpersonal confrontations).
I am a strong, uncompromising supporter of the 2nd Amendment.
Recent events have shown how dangerous things can become for someone who — although in lawful possession of a handgun, and possibly having used that handgun righteously — shoots and kills another person. This is not going to be a dissertation on any incident or experience, current or otherwise in particular, but I wanted to make the point that these types of experiences — of which I had become aware over the years have prompted me to write this article for the benefit of law abiding, decent and responsible people who wish lawfully to exercise their second amendment protected right to keep and to bear arms for personal and family defense.
Years ago I wrote a feature on “Guidelines For The Use of Deadly Force” for my column in the mainstream publication. It was well received, and even served as an inspiration to one of my students (who was a lawyer, and who drew upon it) to write an article on the same subject for a law journal. This presentation will go somewhat beyond the piece that appeared in my magazine column. It is my sincere hope that the information and advice that I convey will contribute to the safety and protection of those who study it, and will help to insure that defensive firearms are utilized properly, legally, and only when absolutely, unavoidably necessary.
C a u t i o n!: — Please note that I am not a lawyer, and therefore nothing contained in this treatment should be construed as “legal advice”, I am only offering PERSONAL ADVICE. For those who have any question pertaining to the law I urge that a lawyer be contacted and consulted.
1. The only justification for shooting a human being is that it is so important that he be stopped from carrying out his intended course of action that it literally does not matter if he is killed in the process of being stopped.
One doesn’t “shoot to wound”. Doing so just is not a feasible option under actual combat defensive conditions. One shoots to decisively and immediately STOP the violent aggressor; and this is done, as all realistic instruction in combat shooting teaches, by shooting multiple times into the individual’s kill zone (or into “center mass”). There’s no “nice” way to put this. The late J. Edgar Hoover and his marvelous FBI had the right idea in the 1940’s and 1950’s, when it was openly and loudly proclaimed that “FBI agents shoot to kill” and that one of the Bureau’s pet techniques was the “FBI shoot-to-kill quick draw”. When the use of deadly force is justifiable and necessary, then using it in a deadly manner is critical for lifesaving success.
Shooting someone to prevent him stealing your vehicle, or some property on your lawn, or because he verbally threatens you or your family is not justification to use a firearm. It is justification to call the police, never to resort to the use of a firearm.
2. Firearms are lethal weapons. One ought to be drawn, therefore, only when and if you are fully prepared to use it, because you are fully convinced that innocent life and limb is at stake. Doubt means “Don’t!” Unless you are 100% prepared — right now — to shoot your adversary because you are convinced of the lawful necessity to do so, do not touch your weapon!
You do not draw your weapon thinking “I hope to hell this scares him off!”
3. While a firearm must never be employed solely to intimidate, threaten, or bluff, it is indeed very possible that the sudden appearance of a firearm in your hand might cause a dangerous felon to halt and to flee. Should this occur, then that is wonderful, and you do not fire. So long as you no longer have an immediate need to stop what you had perceived to be a deadly threat, do not fire. Let the individual(s) go.
Note: There are laws in some places about it being justifiable to shoot a “fleeing felon”. We advise against doing so, even if permissible where you live. There may be an exceptional case (such as if you see the felon fleeing in order to acquire another weapon, etc.) but my advice is: Do not fire at any violent offender who has given up his attack and has turned and is running away.
The point here is: You must be rigorously committed in your mental conditioning and technical use of your firearm only to fire when the threat is imminent. Consider it a blessing if, convinced that you need to shoot, say, a man coming at you with a knife, that man stops in shock and turns and runs when you produce your weapon. The blessing is that now you do not need to shoot him, and you mustn’t.
4. Don’t make “citizens’ arrests”.
Some people are very strange. They feel as though they’ve become “junior cops” when they wear a firearm. They almost regard themselves as “crime fighters”. That kind of thinking can get you into serious trouble.
A citizen’s arrest of a shoplifter on your store’s premises is fine. So is a private security guard’s apprehension of a vandal at the location he has been charged to protect. That kind of thing is not what I am talking about. I am speaking of the “junior cop” syndrome which afflicts a certain percentage of jackasses who would do us all a great favor by not going armed. Leave the crime fighting and the apprehension of criminals to the police. It is their job, not yours. Your responsibility is to never cause trouble, and never agree to fight with anyone. Mind your own business, treat others with respect and courtesy, obey the law, and regard all and any applications of force — most especially lethal, armed force — as an option only to be chosen when necessary to stop serious danger that has come to you.
5. Never fire warning shots.
You are responsible for where the bullets you fire from your weapon go. Never forget that fact. Never forget this, either: Whenever you draw and fire a weapon you are employing deadly force. Firing at the ground or passed an approaching individual’s ear is lunacy. From the purely pragmatic and tactical viewpoint it a) wastes ammunition, and b) might encourage a deadly attacker by giving him the impression that you are hesitant. Common sense also tells us that a bullet can hit a completely innocent bystander, go through someone’s window, ricochet off a rock, etc.
If you are justified in shooting, then you are justified in killing. If you are not convinced that you are justified in legally killing, then DO NOT FIRE THAT WEAPON! Your shots go to center mass of the deadly foe; not off into space or into the ground next to him.
6. Never leave your apartment, hotel room, home, vehicle, or place of business, etc. to engage anyone with your weapon, outside.
Your weapon is to be brought into play only when trouble comes forcibly and unavoidably to you. You never “go to it” — or meet it, halfway.
7. Alcohol or drugs and guns do not mix. Ever.
Bear in mind that there are some legitimate prescription pharmaceuticals which may hinder your clarity of mind and your reliable use of your faculties. If your physician prescribes any to you, leave your weapon at home. You wouldn’t drive under the influence of such pharmaceuticals; nor should you go armed.
If you are at a party or other social event where anything stronger than ginger ale is available, leave your weapon in your vehicle or at home. There can be no “accidents” or tragic occurrences with a firearm if no firearm is present.
8. Be honest with yourself. Until and unless you are genuinely willing and able to shoot a human being and likely take his life, do not go armed.
Being willing and able, please remember, does not mean being anxious and delighted at the prospect of doing so. Only a lunatic relishes the thought of shooting someone. However, when life and limb is at stake it is necessary — for legitimate self-defense — to be prepared to use your weapon for the purpose for which it is intended. One fear that we have had expressed to us in years past is that of “having a criminal take my gun away and use it against me”. The overwhelming number of incidents where that actually occurred (and the only incidents of it ever occurring, about which we are personally aware) occurred, tragically, with uniformed police officers. Not because the officers were unable to properly utilize their sidearms; but rather because, in approaching a dangerous felon (not known by the officer to be dangerous at the time) and not having his weapon drawn, the officer was taken by surprise. (Another good reason not to play cop!)
As a private citizen using your weapon properly you will not normally be known by any attacker to be armed. However, if you draw your weapon and feel a block against using it, it may well be taken from you and used against you! Remember, you are only going to produce that weapon when you perceive what you believe to be a potentially deadly threat. That is not the time to get into an argument with yourself about whether you can or cannot “bring yourself” to pull the trigger! That must be decided and “hung on the hook” or shelved away in your subconscious well before any life-threatening event.
9. The preferred carry mode for the private citizen is concealed.
It is the job of law enforcement officers to look for trouble. It is the private citizen’s responsibility to avoid trouble. A uniformed police officer’s sidearm is a symbol of his authority and of the formidability of his threat to the violent and dangerous of society. Private citizens need present no “symbols” to would-be predators.
I am not in favor of private citizens wearing firearms openly, unless in the case of jewelry or gun store proprietors, etc. Why advertise that you are armed?
My preference is either for a shoulder holster or a high hip (previously referred to as an “FBI carry”) holster — always worn concealed.
In the past I have also used an ankle holster, a frontal “spleen” carry crossdraw holster, and a small-of-the-back holster. Whichever, under prevailing conditions, concealed the weapon best, and served either my professional or personal needs at the time.
This is not a piece on holsters and carry, but I think that the point should be made that concealed — well concealed — is the best and most sensibly realistic way for a private citizen to go armed. (Hopefully, it goes without saying that I mean, legally armed. You should of course obtain the necessary permit or license!).
10. Remember at all times that going armed carries with it a grave social responsibility. You must be hyperaware when armed – supersensitive about where you go, what you do, and what you say. Your responsibility to avoid trouble increases a thousand fold over what it normally is when you are not armed. “I’m sorry”, “I didn’t mean it”, “I lost my head”, “I don’t know how things got out of hand”, “I never thought he would . . . “, ad nauseum, all mean less than nothing when — for some avoidable, unnecessary reason — a gun is drawn and someone is unnecessarily shot.
Make up your mind that you are never going to be “sorry”. Instead, you are going to be SAFE.
11. Far from “not taking any crap from anyone” when you are armed, you will — when armed — take just about all of the crap anyone chooses to dump upon you!
You do not wear a sidearm in order to be the toughest kid on the block.
Short of anything but a potentially life-threatening emergency, you are a passive, easy-going, harmless wimp when you are armed. AVOIDANCE is, as I always teach all of my students, self defense technique number one!
12. You have the right to self-defense. You do not have the right to seek revenge.
I loved the Death Wish movies with Charles Bronson. I also loved Death Sentence, and Vigilante. And so long as you relegate revenge strictly and exclusively to the cinema, you can love the idea of personal vendettas and lethal retribution, too. Just don’t entertain the idea of pursuing anyone after that person has committed some criminally violent act. Apprehension and subsequent punishment for an act — regardless of how heinous and evil — is the province of the LAW.
If you see what some egregious felon has done, and then say to yourself “I’m going to go get him!” it is possible that you may be morally justified. You will never be legally justified. A license to carry a handgun is not a hunting license.
Remember that it is always possible that the person you pursue might not be guilty of whatever act you believe he committed. Mistakes do happen. This, by the way, is one powerful argument for self-defense. If a man is stopped while attempting to commit the crime of violence, there can be no question of his guilt.
In any case, just remember that possession of a handgun doesn’t make you judge, jury, and executioner. It merely equips you with a tool that enables you to defend yourself at the time you are attacked.
13. You have a responsibility to be safe and proficient with any weapon that you carry. In fact I always recommend that step number one for any potential gun owner should be to take a good safety and handling course before purchasing a weapon. When you can correctly and safely handle a firearm it then becomes acceptable to purchase one.
Once purchased, the next step is combative proficiency. Don’t just strap a weapon on and sally forth believing yourself prepared to use the weapon! Get to a range. Fire it. Practice. Dry fire. Work with your weapon until it becomes an extension of yourself. (This, by the way, is the manner in which I teach weapons in American Combato).
14. Ideally, no one who does not need to know should be made aware that you possess a firearm and that you are ready, willing, and able to use it.
I have known some a-holes over the years who, enamored of their self-image as a “tough he-man”, or some other variant of freak, actually flaunt the fact that they are armed. They move so as to let their jacket fall to the side and reveal their weapon. Or they conspicuously reach for their wallet when paying a bill in such a manner that their sidearm’s presence becomes obvious.
Come on. This is exactly the kind of behavior — and mentality — that proper training and preparedness in all forms of self-defense (armed and unarmed) should erase.
How well I remember lessons I took under a WWII-era FBI counterintelligence agent and firearms instructor (not Applegate). In a way somewhat eccentric, Maury would happily demonstrate the mechanics of quick draw but he would never let any student see him go all out. “The only people that ever saw me draw,” he once told me, simply, “were the people I shot.” This man — a genuine combat expert and veteran — would not even “show off” to his students!
Act like a mature, responsible, confident adult, eh?
15. Do not always trust “gun magazines” for good advice or instruction.
A pristine example of utter nonsense in my opinion that had been presented by someone who writes interminably for the newsstand magazines is the idea that there is a way to make your weapon “court proof”, or that one or another weapon you purchase may be more or less likely to cause you grief, should you employ it in self-defense. (As I understand it from working with real experts and discussing the matter with lawyers, the truth is that only two things matter, legally speaking, when a person is judged to have acted lawfully or unlawfully in using a firearm: a) Was he justified in using the weapon as he did?, and b) Was he in lawful possession of the weapon he used?)
Expert advice and instruction comes from real experts. The fact that someone contributes articles to gun magazines hardly proves that he is an expert, or even that he knows what the hell he is talking about!
16. Know the law of self-defense and deadly force as it is administered and enforced where you live.
The laws where you live are readily available to you for study. Often, you can find them on the internet. Laws do vary from place to place and you want to have a good grasp of what they are in your state — as well as in your particular town or city.
17. While there is no law anywhere requiring you to do so as far as I know, I strongly urge you to acquire solid ability in unarmed self-defense as well as armed defense methods.
No one should regard his firearm as a crutch — without which he is helpless, and with which he has no need of any other physical measures by which he might defend himself. The person who has unarmed combat skill will be far less likely to resort to a weapon unnecessarily. Also, in many instances where and when a pistol is required, unarmed combat also takes place; and your ability to use bare-handed skills may well enable you to get to your gun, make use of it, or — possibly — not need to resort to it, at all.
Obviously, the very frail, elderly, sick, or infirm should rely upon their firearm first and foremost, and it is ridiculous to expect, say, a wheelchair-bound person to use hand-to-hand combat.
18. If in fact there is a “stand your ground law” where you live (and I believe that such a law should exist everywhere throughout our Country, and the entire world!) be very, very cautious about relying upon it.
I urge my students, whenever possible, to walk away, apologize, back down, retreat, leave, and get the hell away from any potentially “hot” situation, even if and when they have a perfect right to “stand their ground”.
I see really no point in permitting a situation to escalate when it can be avoided. Yes, you may have a perfect right to stand your ground in one or another given instance. However, in my opinion, unless there is some vital, pressing reason for you to stand your ground and do battle , disengage.
The best advice I can give: Use physical force only when you must, not whenever you can.
If you take the attitude that I suggest and see to it that you implement it, then I truly doubt that you will ever find yourself in trouble for having “abused” the stand your ground law, wherever you live.
19. If you are ever the victim of a violent home invasion, shoot the home invader(s).
Here you must assume deadly danger to yourself and to anyone in your family. No hesitation now. As soon as the violent offender(s) forcibly breaks into your home, use your firearm to end the danger. It could cost you or a loved one life and limb to attempt to “arrest” to to “hold for the police” any home invader.
The assumption must always be that a home invader is armed and deadly.
Of course you should always call the police, if time permits. However, when a violently forcible break in is occurring, YOU must take action. See that you are prepared to do so.
20. Following any necessary shooting I recommend that you be guided in your interaction with the police as follows:
• Tell the truth. Never, ever lie to the police.
• Do not do a lot of talking. People under extreme stress
often have an all but irresistible inclination to talk
Simply tell the facts (i.e. “I thought this man was
going to kill us. I shot him as he came at me.”)
• If advised of your rights do not panic. Simply reply
clearly and courteously as follows: “Officer, I
understand. At this point I am going to remain
quiet until I have the opportunity to obtain
legal counsel.” Then, keep your mouth completely
This has been a pretty lengthy article. It is my sincere hope that it benefits you, your loved ones, and any decent people who read it, and who wish to avail themselves of firearms as tools of self and family protection.