Defensive Gun Use… maybe

Via email.


Subject: DGU or not?
From: An Anonymous friend of mine
Date: Mon, Dec 05, 2011 12:32 am
To: Joe Huffman

was wondering if you’d mind posting this (sourcing it as “from an anonymous friend of mine”) for people to think about and comment on. It happened to me just a few days ago. I’m not entirely sure what all I think about it, just yet.


Defensive Gun Use… maybe

Sometimes when a person uses a gun in self defense, it’s obvious: clear threats are made, shots are fired, blood is drawn, legal issues considered with lawyers, and much paperwork is filed.

Sometimes, it’s not so clear-cut. Case in point:

I was out for a walk in the woods, on a public trail that was foot, bike, and horse only. It is clearly marked as such, with obvious “No motorcycles” symbols. I was about a mile from the (empty) parking lot when I heard the sound of motorcycles coming from up ahead. I saw two young men in hoodies (late teens or early twenties) coming down the path on mini-bikes (very small motorcycles) and around the “S” curves in the trail. I had my DSLR, so I took pictures of them as they came by – it was not very discreet, and they obligingly flipped me off as they went by and around the next corner. I kept walking. I heard the mini-bikes continue along, and then stop and idle, then turn around and started coming back my way.

I looked to see if there was anyplace I could jump off the trail to let them go on by (I didn’t want a confrontation if I didn’t have to have one), jogged a few yards forward and ducked off to the side and hunkered down. I heard the bikes stop back up the trail a piece, and one rider said to the other, “Did you see him jump off right there?”

I figured there was no benefit in keeping down at that point, so I stepped back over to the edge of the trail (I was up a slight embankment), and looked at them. I vaguely recognized one of them – likely a former student. They were back down the trail about 15 yards or a little more, stopped, and looking at me. They asked, aggressively and feeding on one another’s comments and attitude, things like, “Why did you take our pictures, are you weird or something?!”

I replied “I take pictures of a lot of things out here. Mushrooms, birds. And people breaking the law; the trail is clearly posted ‘no motorcycles’.” And I took another few pictures, causing them to promptly attempt to conceal their faces with their hands, but neither of us moved toward the other.

They argued with me a bit, saying they didn’t see any signs, I should delete the pictures, etc. I said I’d walk the trail and if I saw any damage, or vandalism, or heard reports of problems later, then I’d show the photos to the appropriate authorities; if not, then no harm no foul no report. One of them started to get off his bike, saying belligerently, “I guess I’m going to have to fuck up your camera!”

I didn’t change my stance, sweep my coat back, flash a pistol grip, or do anything cinematic. I just stared straight at them, shook my head slightly, and said quietly, but clearly and confidently, “Nah, you don’t want to do that, because then I’d have to defend myself, and that could get… messy.” Not threatening or taunting, not challenging or belittling, not meek or desperate, just confident and not intimidated in the least. In my mind I was thinking about the Glock with a full magazine on my hip, and the fact that I had plenty of distance / time to draw (15 to 20 yards), a great backstop, no innocent bystanders, recent range-time, and good terrain advantage (they’d be running up a somewhat muddy trail, then have to climb a two-foot embankment and go another few steps). I was thinking they were much younger, and outnumbered me, I’d been to the PT recently for my hand, he’d made a clear verbal threat, and running away was clearly not an option with them on mini-bikes, so the legal side was solid. If these two insisted that things had to go all to shit, his day WAS going to be a lot worse than mine.

They suddenly appeared to have a situational epiphany. The lead guy sat back down on the bike, and his body language and tone changed dramatically and instantly, becoming much more easygoing and polite, saying “we didn’t know it was off limits, we didn’t come in the normal way, it’s not like we are out doing drugs, we are just trying to having fun in the outdoors, we’ll turn them off if we pass any horses, please don’t turn us in,” etc. I said again, if I didn’t see any problems on the trail, and heard no reports of problems or vandalism, then I saw no reason to file paperwork, and it would be best if they continued on their way, and I’d continue on mine.

I turned around, and headed on down the trail, listening carefully. I heard them start back up and motor off the other way, slowly. On my way back, I passed their tracks in the mud; they were clearly driving slowly and carefully, as there was no splash or anything torn up anywhere from their tires. I got back to my car, and drove home without any further incident. (Ironically, reviewing the pictures later I noted that far and away the best pictures I got were after they came back to harass me and stopped, and most of the ones I took on their first pass by me would be almost completely useless in trying to identify them (low light means slow shutter speed, and fast moving bikes in a telephoto lens meant out of focus)).

The weirdest part of my recollection is the emotional part. I felt utterly calm. No sweats, no accelerated heart rate or breathing. Just a quick series of mental checklist flashing by – can I avoid them by ducking off to the side somewhere? Then, Can I de-escalate verbally? Well, that’s out, so document the scene and then What’s the physical situation: terrain, backstop, distance, footing, how will I draw from concealment? What’s their mental state, how would I describe how they are acting (body language) and their tone, what specific words did they use? What’s the legal situation? – they came back acting like they knew they did something wrong and knew I’d photographed them and they made verbal threat (intent), two of them apparently in decent shape (ability), all alone in the woods with an empty parking lot at the trailhead (opportunity). It was odd. Not dream-like or anything, just very…clear. Or something.

Was that confrontation a Defensive Gun Usage? I don’t know. I didn’t display or draw or fire or even say I was armed and able to defend myself. I know taking the pictures was the proper thing to do. I don’t think they were unusually psychotic or evil or out searching for victims. But I’m not sure that I’d have been (or acted) nearly as confident in my stance without a gun on my hip, currently having a flakey shoulder and tweaked hand. It may be that they were all bluster, and anything stronger than abject submission would have stopped them. It may be that I could have said the same thing, and had the same effect, knowing I had a Spyderco Delica in my pocket, and some martial arts experience. It may be that the punk just suddenly realized he was being all sorts of stupid, and a possible ticket was much less of a problem than an assault and battery charge.

Maybe. But maybe not.

13 thoughts on “Defensive Gun Use… maybe

  1. Sounds very clear-cut to me and very valid. Defensive Gun Use? Maybe not unless these guys knew that it was a gun that you were in possession of. Here in Utah, we’re lucky that we have a statute that allows you to THREATEN the use of deadly force (to include a gun) if it will stop ‘unlawful force’. This is a step down from a ‘forcible felony’ according the Utah legislature. Forcible felonies are kidnapping, rape, sodomy, murder, armed robbery, etc. Unlawful force is when someone is threatening to beat you up, etc. The threat does NOT have to be verbal. It can even be visual because it does not distinguish between differing types of threats.

    You had disparity of force on your side for legal reasons. Depending on your state, you might not have a duty to retreat, but since they were on bikes you had no ABILITY to retreat.

    Defensive, yes. Gun use, meh…

  2. 15 to 20 yards? That’s 45 to 60 feet so you guys must have been yelling, not talking in a calm, rational manner.

    I don’t know about those guys but I know that I would have asked you if you had my model release for those photos (which you wouldn’t have). Then I would have insisted that you delete them off your camera.

  3. It certainly wasn’t a defensive gun use. More like a “defensive attitude” combined with obvious clarity of thought that de-escalated the situation. That’s good.

    It is good that a threatening situation increased your awareness and focus. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

    The only question remaining is whether you should have taken the first photos. I can see two opposite and valid opinions there, and can easily defend either one on solid moral grounds, IMO.

    Similar story;
    My brother worked years ago as a bouncer. Lots of hand-to-hand martial arts practice. One night walking the popular hang-out street in Spokane (Riverside Street) he and a friend were approached by two goons who wanted to fight. The goons made it abundantly clear that they were going to kick my brother’s and his friend’s asses. The situation was so astonishingly ridiculous that my brother started laughing. It wasn’t a ploy or a ruse or anything like that. My brother is not a large man – about 5’10” and 210. There was no defensive posture or brandishing of a weapon or even any talk. He simply found it genuinely funny and laughed reflexively. The goons bolted.

    Predators look for weakness, and when they fail to see it they move on to better prey. That goes for politics and business as well. This isn’t complicated. The Forces of Darkness are sniveling, shrinking cowards who find strength only in stealth or in numbers.

    Be of good cheer.

  4. You only need a model release if you are going to publish the pictures, you don’t need one to take them nor to provide them to authorities. And only the publisher needs one anyway, you can take as many photos of people in public as you want.

  5. ubu52,

    Better crawl back in your cave. Taking pictures of criminal trespass is certainly protected. (You think that the courts have you sign a model release when they photograph you running a red light?)

    Model releases have nothing to do with taking pictures in public space, and only apply to commercial use of photography. Back to law school for you!! Of course, what you said could be construed as practicing law, so maybe we should call your local authorities and point that out?

  6. ubb52 – Ever been in the woods a mile from the road? On my last deer hunting trip, it was so quiet and frosty a falling leaf fifty meters away made a distinct tic-Tic-TIC sounds as it well to the ground. A bird landing in, and hopping around the branches of, a tree causing a bunch of dew to cascade through the branches made a weird and clear “shushing” sound, and it was over 100m away. If there is no wind, the silence in the deep woods can be impressive: 20 yards can be whispering distance.

    And, if you’d really try the “model release” path because you think it’s legitimate, I guess that explains Joe’s “crap for brains” category.

  7. ubu52,

    As Bill said, Model Releases for Images obtained in a Public Space are ONLY required if the Image is going to be used for Commercial Use, and then ONLY if that “their “likeness” is used by others to promote ideas, products, services, or things.” There is still the possibility of “Libel” or “Slander”, but that is a completely separate Issue. But then I suppose you think Security Cameras are a Violation of “Peoples (especially Criminals) Rights”.

  8. ubu52, you really should not be giving out legal advice you are not qualified to opine upon.

  9. As for the defensive gun use, there was none in this scenario. However, the possession of a defensive firearm did allow the possessor to project a confidence in defending himself from assault that communicated effectively and successfully.

  10. Recently I went down the “rabbit-hole” of No-Nonsense Self Defense. It’s a wonderful website, but it has so much information, that it sucks up my attention span a little too well.

    In any case, one particular point stood out very clear to me, this time around: on one of the pages somewhere, they disputed the idea of “I’d better not learn the law, because if I needed to defend myself, I would just freeze in terror, worrying about the legal parts!” The site pointed out that you’d be more likely to freeze if you didn’t know the legal aspects of self defense, because you wouldn’t have the foundation of knowledge needed in order to know whether or not you are legally justified to pull that trigger! And, of course, if you were wrong, you’ll be up a creek legally.

    Joe’s anonymous friend illustrated this point beautifully, though: when know the law, and are familiar with how violence “goes down”, then everything becomes crystal clear: you know what to do, and what to say, to avoid violence, and if, after everything is said and done, you have to pull the trigger, it is crystal clear that it is legal to do so. Thus, you mind doesn’t freeze, and in this case, no one even got hurt, and even something as small as a bit of vandalism may have been prevented!

  11. Good going, “anonymous friend of mine”! You not only did a good deed, you got an IAR from ubu. That means you’re really, really pushing the left’s buttons.

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