This month’s contribution is a guest appearance by a longtime friend and colleague.
Seth R. Nadel is a retired Senior Special Agent with U.S. Customs. He was the author of the firearms/use of force policy adopted by the agency, and for nine years was the lead firearms and officer safety instructor at Customs’ Western Academy in Tucson. He has written more than 100 articles on firearms and their use in self-defense, and continues to study the legal use of force and the issues that arise from that use.
Ever since the recent George Zimmerman trial, a stir has been made about the fact that the deceased was "unarmed." Really? Who among us is truly unarmed, at any time? If you are in the shower, you may not have any "traditional" weapons, but you still have hands, elbows, feet, knees, and teeth. So, you are still not unarmed, unless you choose to give up.
Are you any “less dead” if it is the result of a blow to your head or a bite to your jugular, rather than a bullet or knife wound? How about if your assailant stands on your wind pipe, rather than drives over you with a car? Nope, dead is dead--there are no "degrees of dead."
So, can you legally and morally use a firearm against someone who does not have anything other than what the FBI quaintly calls “personal weapons?’ Of course! And no matter how many whiners cry that “it’s not fair,” there are circumstances where you can certainly use lethal force against an "unarmed" attacker. Life is not fair.
The legal principle is called "disparity of force." If your attacker is bigger, stronger, better trained, or there is more than one assailant, lethal force may be justified. What matters is whether a reasonable person would fear death or serious bodily harm if he failed to stop the attack. And if lethal force is justified, that means any lethal force--a club, a knife, your car, and yes, your gun!
If someone attacks me, and claims to be a karate/boxing/mixed martial arts master, I believe him! He has just defined that disparity of force, as I am none of those things, and would reasonably fear for my life. My immediate response would be the application of multiple rounds of jacketed hollow-point ammunition until the threat was ended. Not fair? Who cares? I am alive, and the attackers are no longer a threat to my existence, or anyone else's.
Law enforcement agencies recognize the concept, as Use of Force policies explain lesser (less lethal) types of force, but then state, "lethal force is justified." Not "You may shoot them," but "You may apply lethal force!” So, if you have a stick in your hand, and a gun in your holster, if you reasonably fear death or serious bodily harm, HIT THEM IN THE HEAD WITH YOUR STICK! Head blows are prohibited, except under those circumstances.
Now, the lead prosecution witness in Florida apparently can communicate with the dead, because she has stated that the attacker was "only going to deliver a whuppin’." Really? How does she know? And at what point does a "whuppin’" turn into a murder? How do you know in advance? More than one person attacked in “the knockout game” has been killed by a single blow. (The "rules" of the game: approach a stranger and punch him in the head--if you knock him out, you “win.”) And there is the recent case of the soccer player who did not like a referee's call, so the “unarmed” teenager punched the ref in the head--one time. The ref died. In court, the attacker may say, “I did not mean to kill him." But does that bring the victim back to life? No. There aren't any "do-overs" in that game!
If I had been punched in the face, knocked to the ground, and then had someone kneeling on me and banging my head against the pavement, I would fear for my life, and would end the threat by any means possible: biting, kicking, poking in the eye, and yes, shooting. Wouldn’t you?
Now, disparity of force is no defense in a case of "mutual combat." That occurs when he/she says something, you respond, voices are raised, you both "step outside," and the fight is mutual. Or road range, where you get cut off, and exchange hand signals with the other driver. It escalates, and you both pull over to “settle it, here and now." If you start to lose, because he/she is bigger/younger/faster/better than you, too bad. You can give up, but you can’t use deadly force just because you are losing. Better to not get involved in the first place, as this falls into "doing stupid things with stupid people," and always ends badly.
So, you are never "unarmed." You may not be James Bond or Jason Bourne, but you, and your attacker, are never unarmed. And if someone with nothing more than “personal weapons” attacks you, and there is a disparity of force, fight back with any and every tool at your disposal--including your gun!
Novelist John Steinbeck addressed the subject long ago in his version of the King Arthur story:
"The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain; all else is supplemental."
Let’s use our brains, folks. Think smart to avoid conflict whenever possible. If that fails, then fight smart—fight to survive.