Get Off The Couch and Exercise Your Use of Force
[aka Why Did Little Tiffany Deserve A Bullet?]
Erik “Trek” Utrech, Michigan Defensive Firearms Institute
Recently in the Big Mitten there’s been a news story and surveillance footage of an incident in which a Michigander who was fueling up his vehicle opened fire on someone who stole a car while it was parked with keys in the ignition and engine running. After a brief time behind the wheel, the thief, who took a round to the neck, crashed the car, was tracked down by law enforcement and taken into custody.
At the end of the write up, the author of the article reported that both individuals are looking at possible charges for their actions.
This story has caused a wildfire across Michigan and the country regarding the judicious use of deadly force by civilians when faced with property crimes (even if they’re at the felony level). Conversations in person and online have been quite polarizing. They’ve included good bits of information, lots of disinformation, and people throwing case law around verbatim while proclaiming it the one and only answer.
As the current case hasn’t been closed, the official report of investigation hasn’t been released, and both parties involved haven’t yet gotten their fair shake in a court of law, we’ll digress from using this specific incident for this article. But we will talk about your car.
Picture your car sitting in your driveway. Be it a beater like my beloved F350 or a sick Mercedes AMG, imagine it sitting unattended on its slab of concrete, then walk with me through the wilds of the potential that vehicle has when it comes to the force we can apply as citizens.
But first, there are rules:
Rule 1. Know the Levels of Force
When we discuss the use of force as a citizen, there are three PRIMARY levels of force we should be experts at knowing, understanding, and applying (hopefully we never need to apply them, but we can still identify the point in which they can be used).
– No Force.
Yup. This is how we spend the majority of our lives and it is awesome. If we need something from our fellow man, we simply say, “Hey buddy, mind if I get by you?” and fellow humans respond with, “Absolutely buddy! Let me get out of your way.” And so-on-and-so-forth.
– Intermediate Force.
This is where things go from a normal walk in the woods to a hike to remember. Intermediate force is where we need to grasp the difference between someone willing to work with us as fellow responsible citizen versus someone bent on possibly doing us harm. This ranges from the person who won’t leave you be all the way to the person trying to put their hands on you, hit you, and hurt you in a manner that is not lethal and legally known as assault. If someone tries to hurt you with their hands or a less-than-lethal* artificial reach weapon (*lots of grey area here), you can hurt them right back with hands/feet/big toe etc., or my personal favorites, Less-Lethal Artificial Reach tools* (get training on what tools are lawfully available to you and how to use them).
“But Trek, when can I use Intermediate Force in my defense or defense of innocents??”
Great question, my friend! If you believe assault is IMMINENT or IN PROGRESS, you may use Intermediate Force against a badguy. Sorry folks, all those bats, brass-knuckles, nun-chucks, collapsible batons are NOT okay here. You are amplifying your physical strength with kinetic-energy weapons that can kill. No joy. Not ever. (SEE: try and hit a cop with a bat and see how many shots to the face you get with a 9mm)
“But Trek! Cops pepper spray protesters all the time and they aren’t being assaulted!!!”
You are correct, my astute friend! Law enforcement officers, based on their charge as peace officers, special training and the authority of the badge, can use less-lethal tools and techniques at a lower level then we civilians.
“But, but, rubber buckshot, beanbag, and baton rounds from shotguns!!!”
These are also just for qualified LEOs (Law Enforcement Officers). We normal Joes can’t go around shooting assaultive folks with less lethal rounds fired from LETHAL weapons….unless* (*keep reading).
“Well that’s not FAIR Trek!!!”
Indeed it’s not, fellow Joe! But that’s why we have these awesome folks around who serve us every day. Also- MCL 750.224d allows physical force (Intermediate) and authorized intermediate force tools to defend PEOPLE and PROPERTY from ne’er-do-wells. This is very important to note.
– Lethal Force.
Quite simply, when we or other innocents are faced with threat of serious bodily harm and/or death, we may use whatever we have available to defend against and neutralize said threat (this is why you spent so much money on that Uber-blaster). As I say, “When faced with a lethal threat, the MATTER and MEANS of the defense become MOOT. (M3)”
RULE 2. It Is ALWAYS about Serious Bodily Harm and/or Death When We Use A Gun
Always. PERIOD. I wish I could just skip this step. But I can’t. It seems to keep getting missed and is CRITICAL for the responsibly-armed citizen.
So back to your car. I want you to picture the car sitting there. And I want you to picture your mom stealing it. Now your neighbor. Now a total stranger. There you were, looking out the window, when mom decided to lose her mind. Little Billy, the neighbor kid, sneaks up and snags it…off he goes. That guy dressed like a 1930’s burglar? He’s getting in it right now, and he’ll be gone in thirty seconds.
Same crime. Same actions. Different players. What options are available to you for dealing with these folks? Hold that thought.
One nifty tidbit of information making its way around the Michigan circuit is PEOPLE v. COUCH. I highly recommend everyone who carries a gun read it, as there are lots of things in the case and appeal we should note. The Cliff Notes version is that an armed citizen encountered a stereo thief one evening outside his place of business. In the course of the altercation, a thief was killed while fleeing from an armed good guy. Good guy was arrested and charged with manslaughter and later had the conviction overturned on appeal. This case is being lauded as the clear-cut reason that is absolutely okay for a good guy with a gun to shoot someone committing a felony.
But what most people miss is the reason for the ruling, and the very specific justification for the decision. The perp made an aggressive furtive movement towards a lawfully-armed citizen and then tried to flee while still in the commission of a lethal force encounter; he just happened to be un-assing away from the muzzle at the moment he was shot, and the citizen still considered the perp a threat to life and limb*. (*I know….keep reading, I promise it’ll make sense.)
Visualize the three platers I mentioned earlier stealing your car, and ask yourself, “What would they need to do to warrant a lethal response?” (For the record, I don’t hate your mom or neighbor kid.)
Rule 3. Its All About Being Reasonable
I get it. I really do. Bad guys suck. Being a victim of a crime like theft sucks. What dirtbags take other peoples things? Bad guys, that’s who.
Here’s the catch: Just because we encounter a criminal does not mean we get to hurt them.
If we fire our gun to stop the action of another human, we must be able to articulate a threat to life and limb, not a threat to a product. Checking the Kelly Blue Book for the car being stolen just so you can plug the car thief with your .45 is a no-go. You can’t “shoot for tires” UNLESS you felt that was the best way to stop a vehicle occupied by a person who posed a lethal threat to the surrounding citizenry. Catch the secretary embezzling $100k? You can’t do your best Charlie Bronson impersonation and bring the pain. Sometimes we just need to observe and report.
“But Trek, PEOPLE v COUCH says I can shoot a dude in the back for theft!” Sorry pal, you can’t. But imagine this: while I’m looking out the window at my car, bad guy #1 speeds down my street, runs over three people, wrecks his car, gets out and runs up to my car to steal it. Does that change things? Abso-freaking-lutely. If this guy who just killed three of my neighbors gets into my car and gets her rolling, do I have a REASONABLE belief that he could repeat his lethal actions? Hmmm…
Do LEOs constantly pursue car thieves without shooting them? 100% yes (see TN v Garner for a very similar case). Do LEOs and civilians have the same rights when it comes to defense from lethal attack? YOU BETCHA. But there is more to it than just the “flight.”
Okay, so it’s funny. But it’s here to show the MOST important aspect of when we use force: KNOWING why we did it and being able to show the RESPONSIBLE use of it. In this clip, Will Smith’s character is articulating his decision to shoot at who he shot at. Right or wrong will be decided by society.
But What’s The Next Step?
I wish I had an easy answer. But if you carry a gun and don’t have use of force education, you should really seek it out or consider a wooden gun. Knowing when to shoot and when not to requires takes a lot of thought, and study. There are no easy answers. Unless the bad guy is ISIS. Then…well….go nuclear.
With the proper foundation of use of force skills, we can avoid becoming a shocking stories like “Woman opens fire on shoplifter at Home Depot” and “Concealed weapon carrier says he aimed for the tires in a crowded parking lot because the suspects stole a pack of skittles.”
When we decide to carry, we owe it to our fellow man to be the epitome of control and knowledge with the goal of saving life. That all starts with the greatest tool we have, which is between our ears.
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