Friday, April 10, 2015

I'm Back; Sheepdogs Revisited, Again

Preface: I'm back. Why the long hiatus? Because I felt that I didn't have anything unique to say. Amidst the multitude of crimes, horrors, disasters, humiliations, and follies visited upon the world by preening elites, spittle-spewing ideologues, and their mass-murdering followers, words failed me. So why now? Because several people, all at least as smart as I am and all demonstrably more accomplished in important ways, said they wished I would. So, in all humility, here goes. I trust that my friends, colleagues and thoughtful readers will correct any mistakes, and not be shy about offering contrary opinions. After all, that's what being a provocateur is about.

                                                    Sheepdogs Revisited, Again

You might remember my earlier essay* about the "sheepdog" concept, the idea that we armed citizens are, or should be, protectors of the peaceful, passive, fearful sheep who comprise most of the population. I thought it was a bad idea then, and still do. On March 25 in Cobb County (a suburban area northwest of Atlanta) a local man proved to be an ideal sheepdog, capturing a bank robber and holding him for police. According to the story, he followed the robber outside, retrieved his pistol from his car, and held the robber prone at gunpoint until the law arrived. 
So far, so good. If I was that citizen I'd have rushed to the nearest convenience store and bought a lottery ticket. Just one, because with luck like his one is all he'd need. There were many possible outcomes to this story, all bad. Our citizen got the only good one. Let's consider this incident step by step:

1. In the bank. 
The robbery takes place, probably via the crook handing a threatening note to the teller. The news doesn't mention a weapon in his hands, and most bank robberies seem to happen this way. The robber then runs out, pursued by our citizen.
Question: Was anyone threatened at this point? No. The robber was fleeing.
Question: Was the robber armed? At this point it's unknown. What we do know, and what our citizen should have known, is that lethal force is only justified, morally or legally, if there is a threat of death or severe bodily harm to the defender or another, e.g. a bystander or victim.
Question: Was our citizen justified in proactively pursuing the robber and, by the way, brandishing his pistol? No.

2. Outside the bank. 
Details are sketchy, but it seems our citizen ordered the crook at gunpoint to halt and get on the ground. There are photos, taken by a passerby, with the story.
Question: What would have happened if our crook had been armed and had fired on the citizen? It doesn't look like either took cover, so it's reasonable to imagine a running gunfight would ensue. Unlike the movies, most bullets in these situations miss their targets. They wind up somewhere, though. Since the photographer was driving by we can assume that there was a street in front of the bank, which means traffic, and likely homes or shops around. There's at least a reasonable chance bullets would have wound up in some passers-by, some shoppers, somebody, even if not in the proverbial busload of gifted orphans and nuns. Further, it wouldn't matter if the bullets were fired by our good citizen or the felon, because the citizen initiated the fight. He would at least share responsibility with the crook.
Question:  What would our citizen have done if, when ordered to stop, the crook took off running? Police can't legally shoot under those circumstances, and neither can anyone else.
So there's our would-be sheepdog looking silly with a pistol in his hand. (Yes, I am assuming our citizen isn't stupid or depraved enough to shoot the robber in the back.) Now imagine the police roll up on a bank robbery call. Nothing good will happen here. 
Question: What would happen if the crook turned and physically attacked our citizen? If there had been a "disparity of force," e.g. if the crook were enough bigger than our citizen, or there were two or more crooks, shooting might be justified. If the crook were armed with a contact weapon, a knife, club, monkey wrench or whatever, again there's justification.  But remember, our citizen initiated the conflict and was visibly armed. I don't know what a lawyer might make of that but in no way is our citizen going to get sent home with a handshake. Oh, and there's still the problem of all those stray bullets.
An ignorant person might argue that an unarmed person wouldn't refuse to obey someone holding a gun. Wrong. It happens to police all the time.

3. After the robbery. 
Question: Suppose our citizen, for one reason or another, shoots the felon. Suppose further
(this being Georgia) that the district attorney and/or a grand jury rule the shooting justified. Home free, right? Not so fast. Welcome to Ferguson, with every race pimp in the country denouncing our good citizen as an evil bigot who jumped at the chance to cut down a black man (Yes, he is. Look at the photos.) Our dead or merely wounded felon is now a "troubled youth" or a disadvantaged striver beaten down by the evil racist capitalist system.
Question: How would you like to have your home surrounded by a hostile mob chanting "Black Lives Matter"? If they can invade trendy brunches in painfully progressive Decatur, GA, they can show up in our hero's subdivision. And his place of work, for that matter. Imagine how happy his family, neighbors, boss and coworkers would be.
Question: How prepared do you suppose our citizen is for a protracted lawsuit? If the felon is wounded he and his family might well sue. If he dies the family certainly will. A plaintiff's attorney costs them nothing, remember. Sure, our citizen will likely win but it will make him miserable for a long time and cost a fortune.
Question: How do you suppose our citizen, having shot the felon, will do in the press, already prejudiced against gun owners? Remember the mob and the race pimps above? Add TV news and print reporters, with their various agendas. Sound like fun?

4. My advice.
Question: So what should our citizen (and by implication, you) do in a situation like the one we're discussing? In the absence of an active threat, memorize details of the robber's appearance and behavior. If you can safely observe a getaway car, assuming there is one, get a description---make, model, color, license number----then call 911 and give this information to the police. You'll likely have to give this information to the officers that show up, and could very well have to be a prosecution witness. Not the stuff of movies, but a good citizen's duty nevertheless.
In preparation, get some training. Learn to tell the difference between a situation requiring violent acton, one requiring careful observation, and those in between. Read news articles and the NRA's Armed Citizen column. Imagine yourself in those situations, planning in advance what you'd do. Visualize alternative scenarios guided by legal, moral and tactical realities, not action-hero fantasies. Get feedback from people who know. Join the Armed Citizens' Legal Defense Network and study the material they send with membership.
Also, unlike our citizen, keep your gun with you! If the robber was really violent, if he produced a weapon and started ordering customers into a back room, if he hurt someone, that's when you need to take action. That gun in the car might just as well have been on Mars for all the good it would have done in the face of real violence. They're called concealed weapons for a reason. Finally, take off the collar. You're not Rin Tin Tin.

* Which was kindly picked up by Greg Ellifritz for his excellent Active Response Training blog and then referenced on the Defensive forum.


  1. Welcome Back Jack,
    Good thoughts, too often we tend to act, like our vision of cowboys to save the day, when we have not had a chance to consider the unintended consequences. With firearms there are always many negative outcomes. There is a time to act and a time to observe and analyze.

  2. Defense of property other than habitation; Lethal force cannot be used to protect real property unless the person using such force reasonably believes that it is necessary to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.(16-3-24)

    I don't disagree with your assessment, but GA law does have a provision for what the 'sheepdawg' did.

  3. Thanks! I'm a little less ignorant now. Of course, we still have to worry about what lawyers would make of "reasonably believes," "necessary," and even "prevent," given that Fred the Felon was escaping at the time of the confrontation. But I'm utterly unqualified to speculate about that, although glad to know that we can legally protect our property under some conditions.

  4. Very true Jack. It could be just as well argued by the Devil's Advocate that Fred the Felon had just committed a bank robbery which is perceived as a violent action, ie "Forcible Felony.
    Once again, I'm not disagreeing. I think chasing after other folks with a loaded gun is a good way to find oneself in the middle of The Tactical Professor's Negative Outcomes.

  5. Yep. And I owe the Tactical Professor and several other smart people a lot for their insights.


I welcome your comments.