Would You Use Deadly Force to Protect a Stranger?

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Paul Foreman for Legally Concealed

This question has come up several times in my Gun Training Classes. It’s a very important question and no, it does not have an easy answer. The question is: “Should I get involved and try to stop a robbery, even though the victim is a stranger?” If you go back and check the archives, here at Legally Concealed, there is a video of E.J. telling about his experience at a convenience store, where he stopped an armed robbery. E.J. didn’t have to shoot, so all ended well for the clerk, the bad guy and for E.J. Of course, the story had a happy ending. Out in front of the store, the bad guy was introduced to several Law Enforcement officers, was given a nice shiny set of bracelets, and a free ride to the “Crowbar Motel.”

But, have you thought about what you would do if you walked in on a robbery in progress? It could be a bank, a store, a gas station, or even a stranger on the street getting robbed and their life was in immediate danger. Are you your brother’s keeper? Would you draw your gun and shoot to stop a stranger from getting killed? Are we responsible for the lives of others around us? Should we use deadly force to save a stranger? I believe that morally we should step in, where possible, and prevent an injury or death. There could be threats other than an armed robbery. We all assume we should block a stranger from stepping out into oncoming traffic. We all believe we should throw a life ring to someone who has fallen into the water.

Many of us might stop though, when it comes to risking our own life to save a stranger. Some of us are sheep dogs, some of us are sheep. It has always amazed me when I read about a person suddenly possessing superhuman strength. They can lift a car off an accident victim, or run into a burning building to rescue someone who might otherwise die in the fire. Sometimes, sheep turn out to be sheep dogs, after all.

Before stepping into a situation with deadly force, we absolutely MUST know what is going on. Do we really know which one is the bad guy and which one is the innocent victim? In a convenient store robbery, we might usually be able to identify which one is the clerk and which one is the bad guy. But, not every situation we might come across is so easy to determine. Years ago, shortly after pulling the pin (retiring) after twenty three years of Law Enforcement, I came across a situation which turned out to be very embarrassing for me.

We were out shopping one evening. My wife had just walked into a grocery store, I decided to check out “Tim the Toolman’s favorite kind of store, a hardware store, next door. I was just stepping up onto the sidewalk in front of the store, when the door came flying open and a man ran out with another man chasing him, yelling, “Stop, bring that stuff back here and pay for it!”

I had to take a step back and think, “I am no longer a Deputy Sheriff, but, I should do something! I grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911. I recognized the 911 operator and identified myself along with the fact that I was now retired. I told her of the shoplifting situation I had just witnessed. By now the manager and the shoplifter had stopped down near the entrance to another store. I went down there and handed the manager my phone and said, “I have 911 on the phone, tell them what is going on.” The store manager looked at me like I was a little green martian who just stepped off a flying saucer. He looked at his “shoplifter” and back at me with a grin and in an exasperated voice he said, “We don’t need 911, I am training a new man on how to handle a shoplifter!”

I could not find anyplace to hide, and I sure didn’t want to go into the hardware store. I went and sat in my car, wishing I could start the evening all over again. What if that situation had been a little different? I am sure glad it was not an “armed robbery” training session! If the manager had been yelling, “Someone call 911, I have just been robbed!” I, or someone else, might have acted differently and even dangerously by “assuming” it was a real robbery and used deadly force to stop it. My advice: ONLY use deadly force if YOU, or another innocent person is in IMMEDIATE danger of death or great bodily harm. That does not include stopping fleeing suspects.

Domestic violence is another situation which could turn out to be extremely dangerous. There was a case in Florida a while back, in which a man saw his neighbor beating his wife out in the front yard. When the “good samaritan” went to the woman’s aid, he was shot and killed by the enraged husband.
Back when I was a Deputy Sheriff in Florida, a domestic violence incident started late one afternoon right outside my apartment. Our operations manual stated very firmly that we should NOT get involved in situations when off duty, unless it was a life threatening incident. The woman was trying to leave in her car and the man was standing in front of her yelling obscenities. I called 911 and requested an on duty deputy to respond.

Before the deputy could arrive, the fight got worse. The man pulled the women out of her car and threw her car keys off toward a wooded area. She tried to get a second set of keys from her purse. He grabbed her purse and threw it away too. I called 911 back and asked them to expedite the call, as the situation had escalated and I was going to have to intervene. I grabbed a set of handcuffs, hung my badge on my collar, and went outside. My snub nose 38 was tucked into my back pocket. The man had the women backed up against the trunk of the car. As I approached, I yelled, “Deputy Sheriff, back off now!” The man glanced over his shoulder at me with an enraged expression. He acted like he didn’t recognize me as a Deputy, even though my marked patrol car was parked ten feet away. He knew who I was.

I grabbed him by the back of his belt, and swung him all the way around, in a 360, slamming him up against her car. He was cuffed before he knew what hit him, but at least now he knew for sure who I was. The woman had been yelling, “Watch out, he has a gun!” I found no gun when I searched him. I led him over to my patrol car, but then I realized I did not have my car keys. For some strange reason, my wife was watching from the bedroom window. I called to her, “Bring my keys, they are on my gunbelt.” After stuffing the abuser in the back seat, I turned my attention to the victim. She insisted she was ok, and kept apologizing for causing so much trouble. I tried to make her realize she was not the troublemaker. The on duty Deputy finally arrived and when the paperwork was all finished, the abuser was taken to jail. Two days later, the “victim” came knocking on my door begging me to drop the charges against her boyfriend. Did I do the right thing? Sure I did. But what if that situation was really something different? Could she have been trying to steal his car? Could she have just stolen items from his apartment? Could he have been the victim?
Some things are just not always what they seem. Unless you are 100% positively sure of the facts, and you personally are in danger, think twice before getting into something you could very well regret later.

And if you are carrying concealed, get Concealed Carry Training. Practice your Shooting Drills. Remember, those of us who honor the 2nd Amendment, must be responsible and take Gun Training Classes. If we are going to be the Sheepdogs, we must practice being aware of our surroundings, know the law and be well trained in the use of our firearms.
Practice often and keep your head down!

6 Comments

  • left coast chuck says:

    The cop who is on duty is covered by insurance and his union. You are not. If he makes a mistake, the public entity he works for pays for the legal defense and his union makes sure they don’t hang him out to dry (most of the time). Unless you have specific gun owner’s insurance to cover such situations, you will be footing the lawyer bill all by yourself. By the time the civil attorney has finished with you, even assuming you win and walk away judgment free, you will be well qualified for the public defender to represent you in any possible criminal charges because you won’t have an asset or a dime to your name unless your name is Bill Clinton or Donald Trump or someone in that category. Ask any patrol cop how many times the woman has changed her story after the situation has been resolved. For most of them it will be almost every domestic violence call they have gone on. The domestic violence call is possibly the most dangerous call the average patrol officer answers.

  • Andy Schuck says:

    It’s CROSSBAR MOTEL

  • Gregory Pitts says:

    Thanks for the reminder. Reliable Intel is hard to come by in a combat situation. You have to take your time when time is the one thing you are short on; besides Intel.

  • Venus Algus says:

    Always take your time on your target.

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