Whether you are a responsible armed citizen, a law enforcement officer, or both, we are held to a higher standard than the general public. Many of you know this and it is often played out in the public square; however, many of us do not behave as though it is true. Before I start, let me first state that I am certainly not the moral or ethical arbiter, and I have made my fair share of stupid decisions. My intent and hope for this post is that you may reconsider some poor life choices or that you will be able to influence others positively.
In any personal or professional confrontation, your goal should be de-escalation. We are not in middle-school anymore (unless you are) and the inability to walk away from a confrontation should have matured out of you in your early twenties.
Verbal de-escalation is the ability to defuse a verbal confrontation so that it does not escalate into a physical confrontation. In law enforcement, this is commonly referred to as “Verbal Judo”. I have concluded that the ability to verbally de-escalate varies wildly from person to person and is largely dependent on someone’s personality and their temperament. This is not to say that Verbal Judo cannot be taught and learned, but that it is difficult and would take many hours of training.
I am not a Verbal Judo expert (far from it), but there were multiple occasions when I noticed another police officer escalating a situation unnecessarily. On one particular instance, we had responded to a domestic, and one of the other officers was having little to no luck calming the female party down. Mind you, I was still a recruit on the training program. Nonetheless, I asked if that officer could go keep an eye on the male party while I spoke with the female. I displayed sincere interest in her side of the story, using verbal and nonverbal communication, and about 10-15 seconds later, she went from a level 9/10 to a 4/10. Again, I am no expert, but this is one example where communication skills may have prevented us from using physical skills.
One of the biggest obstacles in the way of someone’s ability to de-escalate or resist the temptation to engage in a verbal confrontation is emotional maturity. Emotional maturity is the ability to manage an interaction without unnecessarily escalating the scenario.
If you are someone who cannot walk away from a meaningless verbal confrontation with a complete stranger, then you probably lack emotional maturity. This does not mean that you should not stand up for what you believe in or adopt an entirely agreeable personality. However, if you cannot resist the urge to confront someone for simply looking at you (or your significant other) the wrong way, a delusional vagrant running their mouth, or avoid road rage, this behavior will probably get you into trouble at some point (if it hasn’t already).
An instructor from a recent class I attended said the following phrase that applies directly to this topic:
“I don’t like to start fights because I want to be able to sleep at night.”
The main idea behind that statement is that you will have to live with guilt, should a silly confrontation escalate due to your emotional immaturity and it turns into a deadly force encounter.
Just as important as verbal de-escalation, is physical de-escalation. It is very possible during a physical confrontation to transition from the defensive to the offensive.
Now, it is true that the best defense is a good offense, but not to the courts. If someone throws a sucker punch at you and you respond with a complete and unrestrained beat down on that person, you have become the aggressor and the courts will see it that way. See video below for an extreme example.
Excellent Lesson on De-Escalation
Drinking While Armed (DWA)
Drinking while armed, or DWA as I will refer to it for brevity sake, is one of the more irresponsible decisions someone can make. For the purposes of this discussion, DWA will include consuming alcohol or any controlled substance that inhibits judgement.
Legally speaking, DWA is almost always illegal. In Tennessee, “whether a person has a permit issued pursuant to § 39-17-1315 or § 39-17-1351, it is an offense for a person to possess a handgun while under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance.” TCA 39-17-1321. I’m pretty sure every other state has similar statutes.
According to a legal opinion I found, the TCA does not define what constitutes “under the influence.” So yea, you may think you are fine after one or two beers, but should you get into trouble, it may not be your opinion that matters.
Now, if you read TCA 39-17-1322, it states that self defense or defense of another is a defense under TCA 39-17-1321. While this indicates that you may not be prosecuted for possessing a firearm while intoxicated, it DOES NOT mean that your judgement will not be called into question regarding your use of force.
I’m sure there are some lawyers who could pick apart what I just said, and I invite you to do so.
At the risk of sounding utterly cliche, I will now invoke the slippery slope analogy. I’m sure most are aware, but a Slippery Slope is an idea or course of action that will gradually lead to something disastrous and by the time you want to turn back, it’s too late.
In terms of DWA (or DUI for that matter), unless you draw a hard line, you will likely push the envelope over time.
For example, today you may say that one beer does not inhibit your judgement significantly and you might be right. However, a few days, weeks, months, or years from now you will likely extend that to two beers, and then three beers, and then four, etcetera. Think of it as confidence creep. Ironically, alcohol becomes a positive emotional feedback and the more you drink, the better you feel about your abilities.
As it relates to DUI, few people get caught driving intoxicated when they first begin to drink and drive. According to this source, “An average, a convicted drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before his or her first arrest.” I would argue that those people experienced a gradual increase in the level of intoxication they were comfortable with over time. They probably had one beer the first time and were nervous about getting caught, then nothing happened, so their confidence grew. Until one day they were too far down that slippery slope and noticed blue lights in their rearview mirror.
This is not an article on DUI, but there is a lot of cross-over with driving a car while intoxicated and carrying a firearm while intoxicated. Keep in mind that the 0.08 intoxication limits are relatively arbitrary in nature and that any level of alcohol in your system inhibits your judgement.
Carrying a firearm is a massive responsibility. You carry the power to cause serious injury or death. When you holster your firearm as a police officer or as a responsibly armed citizen, you are accepting the reality that you may need to use that firearm to cause serious injury or death. It is grossly immoral to consume alcohol while carrying a firearm in public. Furthermore, it indicates that you do not take that responsibility seriously due to your willingness to inhibit your judgement.
Police officers, who carry a firearm while drinking in public or drink and drive not only put themselves and the greater public at risk, but they also place a potential fellow officer in an ethical dilemma.
If the on-duty officer does their job, it could result in legal charges, an arrest, and potentially job loss for the intoxicated officer. This could also result in that responding officer being labelled as a snitch by fellow officers. However, if the officer chooses not to arrest, they risk losing their job. Either way, your decisions could seriously affect fellow officers.
You are responsible for every shot you discharge, intentionally, negligently, or accidentally. Accidents and negligence not only lead to legal consequences but they also hurt the 2A community.
Once again, if you carry a firearm, you acknowledge that there exists the possibility you may be forced to use that firearm in self defense. Should the unfortunate circumstance arise where you are forced to defend your life or someone else’s life with deadly force, you will be held responsible for every bullet that exits your muzzle.
How confident are you with your ability to shoot quickly and accurately under stress? Have you trained under stress? Have you trained in Force on Force scenarios? Do you carry less lethal weapons? How are your empty hand skills? Do you understand how to treat gunshot wounds?
I suspect that many concealed carriers neglect training due to a belief that they will rise to the occasion. If this is you, I encourage you to seek training.
The phrase, “________ has a range in their backyard” is up there with “don’t worry, it’s unloaded”. Contrary to Hollywood and video games, a bullet’s journey does not end with the first object it impacts. Most people seem to think that a safe range only requires a simple berm as a backstop, with little regard for a Surface Danger Zone (SDZ).
The best way I have found to illustrate what often happens often after a bullet strikes a dirt berm is to show a video of a night shoot with tracer rounds. Tracer rounds make it easy to see the bullet in flight due to their bright glow. Tracer rounds are often loaded as every fourth round on a belt of machine gun ammunition. So, as you watch the video below, consider that you are not seeing the three non-tracer rounds between the visible tracers.
In the video, you will see the path of each tracer, followed by an immediate and abrupt change in ballistic trajectory. This is because the rounds are impacting the dirt or a berm.
There is nothing particularly special about machine gun round ballistics, videos like these just illustrate what is often out of sight and out of mind.
Accidental Discharges and Negligent discharges may result in nothing more than drywall repair, but they could end in a wrongful death. You are always responsible for every bullet you fire, regardless if you understand the firearm to be loaded or not. A single AD or ND can rob someone of their life, another of a loved one, and you of your rights. Furthermore, ADs and NDs only provide more fuel for anti-gun culture rhetoric. ADs and NDs can be greatly mitigated by strictly adhering to the principles of Firearms Safety.
The American social and political landscape is rife with anti-gun and anti-Second Amendment sentiment. As firearms owners, we are each ambassadors for the gun community. A good or bad decision could very well influence someone for or against a belief in gun rights.
Choosing to drink while carrying could lead someone to believe that CCWers are irresponsible and reckless. An inability to de escalate, or worse, need to escalate confrontation could create the impression that gun guys are hot heads. Failure to abide by the Firearms Safety rules could make someone conclude that guns are inherently unsafe.
It is important to understand that each of us is a node in a social network and the decisions we make are not insignificant.
So, what is “The Standard”? What should guide us in the moral arena of the aforementioned topics? This is not a post on ethics, so I will keep this brief.
Personally, I look to the Bible and Christian Ethics for the most part. For situations not explicitly covered by Scripture, I consider what social contracts I have agreed to or laws, and ask if I am acting in accordance with those.
I also believe that the concept of Universalization can be applied to much of the previous discussion. Universalization basically means that when determining any ethical or moral decision, we should ask ourselves if that decision should be universally applied. I.e., “What if everybody did this?” Then base our decision on what would be the best decision for everybody to make. Some examples include: Should everybody rob a bank? Should everybody cheat on their spouse? Should everybody drink and drive? Should everybody love their neighbor? Should everybody eat healthy? Etc.