Saturday, March 1, 2014

It Happened To Me Today - Defensive Use Of A Handgun

By Dave Dargo

How do we condition ourselves to know what to do in a critical situation? How do we know when we're in a critical situation?

On our web-site and in our class we cover the four levels of awareness and the importance of allowing oneself to easily move from one level of awareness to the next. We also talk about the importance of conditioning specific responses to specific stimuli so that we are executing a clean plan rather than improvising when faced with a critical situation.

Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to experience much of this during a quiet lunch today with my wife and niece. We were eating at a little BBQ place in Baton Rouge. This particular joint has picnic tables about fifteen feet from the road and traffic goes by rather quickly. Our lunch was interrupted when a silver car came driving over the curb and came to a screeching halt in the parking lot. Something was clearly amiss.

I got up from the table to see what was going on. My first thought was there was some type of emergency necessitating such a stop. A man got out of the driver's door, ran around to the front passenger door, ripped that door open and reached in with both hands. My first thought was that a child was in immediate need of assistance and I took a couple of steps forward. Sometime during these few seconds I went from yellow to strong orange in awareness.

At this point, I realized the man was throwing punches and shaking the person in the passenger seat and my assumptions immediately changed to a scenario involving domestic violence. I yelled for my wife to call 911.

I stood there for a second trying quickly to think of the best action to take. Would yelling be enough? I was entering the red or alarm state of awareness.

Before I could take any action, the man looked up, saw me and stepped away from the car.

He yelled, "Stop looking at me."

I said nothing. However, I was not going to stop looking at him for two reasons. I intended to be a good witness and, more importantly, I didn't know if he was going to become a threat to me or the others sitting outside.

I was looking at his hands and his waistline. I knew that if he had a weapon those would be the first places I would see it. At this point he was about 40 feet away. Pace it off if you want, it's not very far.

I did experience time-dilation and I recognized it by how much detail about him and the environment I noticed as the situation unfolded.  I knew he was bigger and younger than I. I knew there was a brick wall just behind him on my right-hand side and a clear sidewalk on the left-hand side. I knew there was no one else in the parking lot between him and me. I noticed the armful of tattoos on his right arm. My alarm or red awareness plan had already formed in my head.

I knew what I would do if I saw a weapon and I knew what I would do if he came at me.

I had already painted in my mind lines on the parking lot between him and me. I had already built my what-if decision tree before he began to move.

- If he comes towards me past the back of his car I will start to back-up.
- If he continues past that point I will start my verbal challenges and will continue them.
- If he crosses the 30' mark towards me I will lift my shirt, grip my firearm and prepare to draw.
- If he crosses the 25' mark I will draw to the low ready.
- If he crosses the 20' mark I will draw onto him.
- If he crosses the 15' mark I will fire.

These decision points had already been created. At this point I was executing a plan based on the choices this individual had made and was about to make.

He started charging towards me yelling that he was going to straighten me out for looking at him. I could see him clenching his fists and bringing his arms up to a fighting position.

He moved to the back of his car. I took my first step backwards in a straight line. I was conscious of my feet taking their very first steps. My feet seemed to remember the slow, self-assured steps they needed to take to maintain footing and balance. I was aware of my feet but was not thinking about how to step as I had done this exercise hundreds of times - my steps were part of a conditioned response.

I issued my first challenge, "Back off!"
He took a step forward, I took a step backward and challenged him again, "Back off!"

He continued his posturing, yelling and charging. He crossed the 30' line. My shirt came up and my hand gripped the firearm. I stepped back again and challenged him again, "Back off!"

I had stepped slightly sideways so the brick wall was directly behind him. He had drawn his hands up to the sides of his chest. Though I could still see his hands, my focus now went directly to his chest. I had decided that this individual, today, right now, may do something that will force me to shoot him. I had selected the point of aim and was focused on it.

He was approaching the 25' line and I could feel myself starting the clear step of the draw-stroke. I commanded again, "Back off!"

He took one more step, stopping just before the 25' line I had drawn in my mind. He looked at me, turned around and returned to the car.

The woman got out of the car. I considered the possibility that she could also be a threat or that he was returning for a weapon and I still gripped my firearm ready to draw. She started yelling at the assaulter, "No one has ever loved you the way I love you."

It took me a second to realize she wasn't yelling at me.

She ran around to the driver's side, he got in the passenger side and they took off.

The police came to take a report and they interviewed the witnesses.

What was interesting to me was what the witnesses reported compared to what I remembered.

About him: I was the only one who saw him beating the woman in the car. Everyone saw him come crashing into the parking lot, go to the passenger side and then charge me aggressively and verbally and physically threaten me.

About me: everyone reported that I kept commanding him to back off or stand down, that I was backing away from him and only displayed my weapon when it appeared that I had no choice. To them they heard a steady stream of "Back Off!" commands coming from me while I only remember discrete commands as he crossed each of the lines I had imagined on the parking lot surface. I think this is a result of me experiencing time dilation and the witnesses seeing a fluid scene unfold.

The entire situation took less than 3 or 4 seconds from start to finish.

There were witnesses who felt I would have been justified in shooting him.

I think it is because of training, conditioning and practice that it was not necessary.

Though I was threatened, I did not panic. Though someone was coming at me aggressively and quickly, the entire situation unfolded very slowly in my mind methodically going from one conditioned response to the next.

I don't know what set this person off on a violent rampage. I don't care. I do know, however, that this would be considered a defensive use of a firearm without ever having to fire a shot; without even having to complete the draw-stroke.

I'm very happy I was in a state that recognizes my fundamental right to self-defense.

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