What to Expect Following a Defensive Shooting – Part 1

The most important thing to do is make sure you are safe from further attack or injury…

I just finished trying to reassure a member of one of the firearms groups that I belong to that you are not guaranteed to be arrested and sent to jail if you use your firearm in a lawful self-defense encounter. The member and his wife just finished attending a seminar put on by one of the companies that offer insurance for cases of self-defense with the use of force. He said that a “former police officer” at the seminar “made us all feel like criminals, and now my wife’s so scared of the repercussions of using self-defense that she’s decided not to carry at all.”The speaker went on to say “that anyone who uses a firearm for self-defense, whether it’s discharged or not, is immediately guilty of murder or attempted murder and will be arrested on the spot and sent to jail.”

That is just plain wrong, and does nothing but make people fearful. Is going to jail on a murder charge a possibility? Maybe. It really depends on the situation surrounding the whole encounter.Seminars and speeches like the one really do a disservice to the law-abiding citizens who carry a firearm for self-defense and know the law says about the use deadly force to protect themselves or others. I reminded the member that this officer was more than likely being paid by the company that put the seminar on, and that the company sells insurance. What better way to boost sales than to make everyone scared to use their firearm without insurance?

So, what really happens when you are forced to use your firearm to defend yourself or someone else? What happens after the smoke clears and the threat is gone? Situations vary, but I will try to explain the essentials from both the legal and investigatory side. I will then explain what you yourself can expect to go through.That’s a lot of information, and why this is Part 1 of a two-part article.

In this first installment, let’s talk about the law enforcement response.You are forced to defend yourself. You know the laws on self-defense, you are lawfully carrying or in possession of the firearm, and you have used it to save your life or the life of another person. You pull your firearm and shoot another person, causing them injury or death. As the fog lifts and your mind starts to wrap around the fact that you just shot someone, the police will arrive.What happens in the next few minutes is critical to what may happen to you down the road. You may be physically injured, and at a minimum you will be shaken, dazed, and/or confused.

No matter what you do, you should immediately make sure you are safe from further attack or injury. Make sure you are ready for the potential of another attack or more assailants. Once you are sure it is safe and over, take a few very deep, calming breaths. Try to calm your heart rate and breathing, and then get on the phone and call 911 as soon as you can, even if others have already called.When the 911 operator answers the phone you need to be very clear and concise.

DO NOT get long winded and start yelling or screaming. Tell the operator that you were attacked or threatened and (most importantly) that you were in fear for your life (or the life of another), and that you want to press charges against the suspect. Give them the location and your name. Then say no more. Only give identifying information, your name, and location.

When the police arrive, make sure you are no longer holding your firearm in your hand. Either lay it on the ground and move away from it, or secure it somehow. If there a lot of people around, don’t lay it down where someone can pick it up and run away with it. Follow all the directions of the officers. They may or may not point their firearms at you, they may handcuff you, depending on what the officers were told by 911 dispatchers. Regardless, when they arrive, the ONLY information you should give them is your identifying information; name, address, date of birth. There is nothing wrong with giving them your driver’s license, concealed carry license or both. Keep the information you share limited to the basics.Under no circumstances should you start telling anyone the details of the incident. When they ask you what happened, simply tell the officers the same thing you said on the phone, “I was attacked and feared for my life (or life of another) and I was forced to defend myself. I want to talk to my attorney before making any statements. I do not consent to any searches. I will cooperate fully after speaking to my lawyer.” Remember: you have the right to have an attorney present before any questioning begins. Stick to this and no more.

Unless they have enough evidence at the scene to give them probable cause to believe you committed a crime, they cannot arrest you or take you into custody. If you used self-defense in accordance with your state’s laws, you should not be arrested. If they feel they have a case at that time, then the responding officers may arrest you, but that does not mean you are guilty or will be convicted, or even held for long. Still, do not tell them what happened. Make sure you reassert your right to speak to your attorney before you are questioned about the incident.

If you are can you should call your attorney from the scene as soon as you can. Remember that the police do not know you from your attacker, and that they were not there. They can only go by what they know from the 911 call or calls, from what they see at the scene, and what they are told. Even if there are other people there that are lying about what happened, do not start getting defensive. The worst thing you can do is start telling them what you think they need to know while emotionally upset and scared, because you could say the wrong thing or mix up your words. Just focus on calming down; don’t say anything about what happened.

Let’s assume you are not arrested, but released from the scene to go home. The officers will probably take your firearm into evidence. Make sure you get a receipt for it, because it will make getting it back later easier for you. Now what you need to do is go home and calm down. DO NOT go home and start drinking to settle your nerves, and try not to take medications to do the same thing. Instead, try sitting down and breathing slowly as you go through the events in your head. If you need to, writing down what happened in chronological order may help. In the privacy of your own home, call and speak to your attorney if you have not done so yet. Make sure you tell your attorney the truth of everything you said, saw, and did. What you were feeling, and why, and especially how you ended up feeling threatened. The idea that you were in fear for your life is the key to your reason for defending yourself.

If you are arrested, the same guidelines apply as above. Do not panic. Just because you have been arrested does not mean you are convicted. You should still not say anything about what happened until you speak to your attorney. You will be given the chance to “bond out” of jail, a promise that you will appear in court by paying a fee that will be returned to you upon your appearance. If you do bond out, you will be given a court date to appear. DO NOT miss it. Make sure you contact your attorney, let them know everything that happened, and give them the court information.

Different states have different rules for these types of things. In my state of Florida, if you are arrested and do not bond out, you have to appear before a judge within twenty four hours and have charges and bail set.

There is a system. If you are within the law, do not lose faith. The system does have its way of doing things.

Coming in Part Two: what you can expect during and after a shooting, both physically and psychologically.

What to do if you are Involved in a Self-Defense Incident.

A Retired Veteran Cops Perspective…

I have been retired now for almost a year. And in that time I have begun teaching civilian concealed carry classes locally as well as still teaching at the local police academy. I have been teaching police recruits for over 28 years and civilians for about a year or so.

One of the things that I have noticed is that the people that take the civilian classes are very well meaning and law abiding people. And they want to try and make sure to stay the law abiding part of that. So when I am teaching what to do when you are involved in a self defense incident, they seemed very surprised when I tell them what I do when it comes to speaking to the police.

You see TV and movies have yet once again misled the vast majority of law abiding citizens to think that as long as you are in the right and telling the truth, you have nothing to hide form the police and should feel fine about giving them a description of what happened and why you had to defend yourself. Well as a retired cop I am here to tell you that is not necessarily true.

When a LEO is involved in a on duty shooting, they for the most part, are given up to 72 hours to recover from the stress involved before being requested to give a statement to the investigating detectives. This is because when you are involved in a life and death incident you are going to be affected both physically and mentally, even if you are not injured. Adrenaline and other hormones will be dumped into your system. You will most likely become very shaky and out of sorts. Your thought process will be muddled and you may have trouble recalling exactly what happened at first.

People experience things during these types of situations like time compression (time moves faster than normal) time expansion (time slows down). Auditory exclusion where you don’t remember hearing anything like gunshots or screaming. Visual field restriction (tunnel vision) where you lose peripheral vision. And many more things. If you want to learn about what happens to the body and mind during these types of situations I highly recommend Lt. COl. Dave Grossman’s book “On Combat” published in 2004 and available on Amazon and elsewhere.

First once the scene is safe and there are no more threats, RE-HOLSTER your firearm. Or at least do not be holding it when the cops show up. Unless you are on the phone with 911 and describing yourself to the dispatcher, the responding cops do not know who you are and if you are standing there with a gun when they pull up, they are likely to mistake you for a bad guy. And you don’t want that.

Even though you are 100% certain that you are within the law, and you have no doubt you can explain exactly what happened and the cops should see it plain as day, DO NOT TELL THE POLICE ANYTHING ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED! Now I am not saying do not cooperate and provide some basic information. It’s OK to give them your name, address and identifying information. But when it comes to answering questions about what happened and why you had to use force to end the situation, do not say anything! I cannot emphasize that enough!

Give the police that respond all the personal identifying information they ask for, that’s not a problem. They will more than likely take your firearm or any other weapon you have and say it is for “evidence”. That’s fine also. But tell the officers who ask you to tell them what happened, very politely yet firmly;

I would be happy to fully cooperate and I will but I wish to have my attorney present before any questioning.”

So even though you may feel compelled to talk about what happened to the police, and they may try and ask you many questions and get you to “fill them in”, do not.

At the point that you request your attorney law enforcement is supposed to stop asking you any questions about the incident. Now if you then start talking about things, they can use whatever you say if they want. So do not talk about it.

Once you have contacted an attorney (or if you are smart you have one through your self defense insurance) wait until the attorney advises you what to say and when. That’s what they get paid for.

Now I know what some of you may be thinking, I was within the law and have nothing to hide so why not tell them? And that is all well and good, but because of the trauma you have been through you may not recall things as they really happened, you may not recall something important, and you will not be able to recall things properly until later after you recover from the initial shock.

No I know this may sound strange coming from a veteran retired cop and someone that trains police recruits, but I have seen first hand what can happen when even though you are well meaning about what you are saying, things can be twisted or taken out of context or you may actually not remember something very important and leave that out of your statement.

Your attorney will guide you through the “elements” needed to prove self defense and discuss with you what to say in your statement. They should also be present with you while you are speaking with police.

That is my simple advice to you. Coming from someone that has seen it and heard it. And experienced it themselves. Do not talk to the police until you have an attorney present, even when you know you are 100% right in what you did.

I have self defense insurance for just something like this. You should consider that also. There are several out there. My personal one is US Law Shield, but you should research on your own.

So be safe, carry always and if you ever have to use your self defense firearm, do not talk to the police until you have an attorney present. From the cop that used to ask the questions.