Shoot Or Don’t Shoot

 Posted by at 12:41 am  Nick's Blog
May 062019

After reading the blog post about our encounter with an armed burglar in our motorhome that I linked to in yesterday’s blog, three different people emailed to ask me why I didn’t shoot the burglar once I disarmed him and he was running away. The simple answer is, he was running away. He was no longer a threat to us.

Now, when he turned around and started back in my direction he came within a heartbeat of being a dead man. I’m forever grateful it didn’t come to that. Taking someone’s life, no matter what the circumstances, is something no sane person ever wants to do. No matter the circumstances, even if you do it in a time of war, it doesn’t make it any easier.

In my time as a firearms instructor and range master I always tried to impress on the people I was training that not only is it important to know how and when to shoot, it’s just as important to know when not to pull the trigger. During my newspaper days I was once invited to a local police department to observe and participate in a Firearms Training Systems (FATS®) exercise. For those not familiar with it, FATS is an excellent virtual training program used by both police and the military. You’re watching a life sized screen where actors portray both good guys and bad guys, and you have to make split-second decisions about when to shoot or not to shoot. I don’t think anyone who has ever gone through FATS training will ever question a police shooting again without considering what happened from the officer’s point of view as well as that of an outsider.

I had participated in FATS and other simulated training before, so I had some idea of what to expect. Unfortunately, it was the first time for several of the officers in our small rural police department. Some of them were chagrined, and a couple downright irritated, when the roly poly little newspaperman had better scores than they did. Not because I was a better shot, but because I wasn’t as quick on the trigger as some of them were.

Knowing when to shoot and when not to shoot is something that every gun owner must be aware of at all times, not just those in law enforcement. Years ago a friend of mine was police chief of a small town near Tucson when he took the call about an armed man walking down the street pointing two handguns at people. Lynn rolled onto the scene and found the man to be mentally disturbed and a definite danger. He had already fired several shots at a construction crew working nearby.

Lynn ordered the man to drop his weapons, but instead he pointed them at him. Lynn would have been within his rights to shoot the man then and there, but there was a grade school behind him and my friend knew that if he pulled the trigger and missed his target there was a possibility of a bullet hitting the school. So, maintaining a level of calm composure that very few of us ever could, he tried to talk to the man down, and all the while he was very slowly moving sideways. The bad guy didn’t want Lynn to get closer or get behind him, so he also moved sideways in the opposite direction, all the while pointing his guns at my friend and screaming that he was going to kill everybody.

Once they were turned enough that there was no danger of a flying bullet hitting someone besides the intended target, Lynn told him to drop his weapons one more time, and when the man instead started to pull back the hammer on one of his guns Lynn fired one shot, putting him down. That, my friends, is the definition of courage under fire.

Many years ago, soon after I got out of the Army, we were living in a nice middle-class neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio. It was a Saturday in the summertime and I was doing something in the backyard or the garage, and the woman who was my wife at the time had come home from work and told me she was going to jump in the shower. A few minutes later I heard her screaming and ran into the house, where I also heard a man shouting at her. I grabbed my .45 automatic and pushed open the bathroom door to see a terrified Marty (my ex) holding a towel over her with one hand and trying to push a man away with the other. At the same time, he kept reaching for her and they were both screaming.

I ordered him to back away but instead he tried to grab her again. I pulled back the hammer on my pistol and was a nano second away from pulling the trigger when he turned to face me and I saw a look of pure terror on his face. Not the terror of someone who knew he was about to be shot, but rather of someone who didn’t know what was happening and was in a panic. About the same time a woman came running through our front door, and when she saw me with my gun she started screaming, “Don’t shoot, he’s a baby.” He may have been a baby to her, but he stood 6 feet tall and weighed close to 200 pounds.

I immediately pointed the gun at the floor and put the safety on while she grabbed the man and started comforting him. As it turns out, he was her son and had severe developmental difficulties. Though he was somewhere in his 30s physically, mentally he was somewhere around four years old. Apparently he had left his fenced in yard and gone for a walk without his mother’s knowledge, and when he saw my Springer spaniel in the yard he stopped play with her. Then he decided he was thirsty, so he went in the house to get a drink. That’s when Marty heard him and called out, thinking it was me. Being the child that he was, he went to see what she wanted and all hell broke loose.

It was absolutely terrifying to all four of us, and even today I am so thankful that I did not pull the trigger. I’m not sure if any court in the land would have found me guilty of anything, but you never know. Either way, there would have been no winners in that scenario.

As most of you have been reading this blog for very long know, I’m a strong advocate of the people’s right to keep and bear arms. However, with that right comes a very strong responsibility. A responsibility not only to learn how to safely handle and shoot your weapon, but to know when you should and when you should not shoot. Anytime I listen to someone say that if they find a trespasser at their door they will shoot them and drag them inside before they call the cops, all I can think is, what an idiot. Not only because any investigator worth his badge would immediately know the scene had been tampered with, but because anybody who is that willing to pull the trigger that easily should not have a gun. Yeah, I know it’s their right, but that doesn’t make it right. Somebody like that is a danger to themselves and everybody around them.

Congratulations Jay Rubin, winner of our drawing for an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for a campground rating, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day. We had 83 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.

Thought For The Day – Those who snore always fall asleep first.

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  6 Responses to “Shoot Or Don’t Shoot”

  1. Agree with your gun discussion. With rights come responsibilities. We believe in the 2nd amendment but we also believe in gun safety and knowledge. He would is prepared is better able to respond to any situation. Have a great day!!!!!!!!!

  2. Very well written Nick.

  3. Very well put Nick. As a pro gun advocate who has also worked in the L.E. field. I know all to well one has to be very sure before you pull that trigger. Right or wrong your life will change for ever.

  4. I appreciate your articulate, expert, and experienced description of your position on gun ownership and the responsibilities that go with it. It exactly mirrors my own. My dad gave me a single shot .22 rifle for my 13th birthday. He never had a hand gun in our home, but he and my uncles and granddad were all hunters. I was taught the rules and the reasons and how to clean and maintain. If I had shown real interest, it would have become more thorough. As an adult I have tried some other firearms. I have used hand guns to “plink” at cans and tried my skill at paper targets … fun for an afternoon, but not a passion. I don’t own a firearm … and probably never will. But I live in AZ and understand that a large number of citizens DO walk around “carrying”. My most fervent hope is that they are competent, cool-headed, and sane. The right to carry a gun ought to come with mandatory education, proficiency training, and registration …. as least as comprehensive as learning to drive a car!

  5. Well said, Nick! You’re spot on with the responsibility you have with a finger on a trigger. In all my years in LE, only once did I have to draw my gun to save a life, thankfully it turned into a no shoot situation. That decision had come from years of training and many hours thinking of what I’d do in a “what if” situation occurred.

    Having a firearm is both a blessing for peace of mind but can be a curse if used irresponsibly.

  6. Nick I hope it makes every think before they do anything. When you explained things I would look at things differently. Love your blogs.

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