That Was a Strange Noise. Should I Shoot?

Reminiscent of a great Christmas poem, you have just settled your brain for a long early autumn nap. You’ve completed your evening security ritual of checking all the doors and windows, setting the alarm, patting the dog on the head and arranging your gun, flashlight and cellphone on the nightstand.

As you let your head hit the pillow, you think about how quiet the house is now that your final child is off to college. Your spouse is out of town, and you have the entire place to yourself. Is the bathroom faucet dripping again? You head into the upstairs bathroom and turn the faucet a little bit tighter before heading back to bed. The dog, apparently feeling you don’t need his help, simply lifts his head off the floor to see where you are going, then returns to his more comfortable position.

Back in bed, you let your eyelids get heavy and take in one big deep breath as you prepare to fall asleep. All is calm.

Nighttime Scuffle

The sound of the dog pacing and whining wakes you up. Bleary-eyed and a bit confused, you look down at the pooch moving between you and your bedroom window in a manner that does not appear to indicate the need for a trip to the backyard. That’s when you hear the voices. They are muffled but clearly agitated. You think you hear cursing and sit up in bed, cocking your head to one side. Then you chuckle a bit as you realize you are acting just like your dog. But the voices remain and seem to be getting louder. You head to the window, push open the curtain and look out to see two men, face to face, in the street.

Both are gesturing, waving their arms and pointing at each other. You look down at the clock, 2:42, and rub your eyes. Outside the window, you see the man on the left turn slightly away from the confrontation and, without any warning, deliver a huge roundhouse punch to the side of the other man’s head. The punch likely would have been devastating, but the recipient got one hand up and was able to deflect most of the blow before delivering a body shot to his attacker. Suddenly this is a full-on fight — and it’s moving toward your front lawn!

Get Some Help on the Way

You reach for your phone and dial 911, continuing to watch the fight unfold outside. You provide the dispatcher with your address and a few details about the fight. Then the questions start. No. You don’t see any weapons. No. You are not involved. No. You don’t know who the people are. The dispatcher assures you that help will be on the way and, before you hang up, you provide your number in the event that someone needs to contact you.

Back outside your window, the fight is not exactly raging. There is shoving and shouting. After the initial few punches, things seem to be settling into lots of bluster and not much actual danger. The pair, pushing and jawing, seems to be moving toward your neighbor’s yard, but you can still see and hear the tension and angry words. You look away from the window for a minute and notice your dog is showing no actual interest in “guarding” the house anymore and has actually jumped up on your bed to find a more comfortable spot to sleep.

From Bystander to Participant

That’s when you hear the fight erupt again, and you look out the window. Now things have taken a serious turn. As the men have crossed into the neighbor’s yard, shoving, screaming and threatening, one man apparently stumbled upon a baseball bat the neighbor kid forgot to put away. Through the window, you see the man grab the bat and deliver a major-league swing. The recipient of the blow tries to block it with his arm but is nonetheless knocked to the ground. The attacker begins repeatedly hitting the downed man on the back and ribs. He is clearly administering a vicious beating, and the man on the ground appears as if he can no longer defend himself. He is, in fact, no longer moving, but the attacker is still hitting him.

Without a second thought, you grab your flashlight and gun, head down the stairs and out your front door. You stop within 15 feet of the fighting men.

The attacker is still cursing and beating the downed man when you shine your light on him, point your gun and shout, “Stop! Stop hitting him!”

The attacker stops mid-swing and, with the bat still over his head, turns to look your direction. He says, “This is none of your business!” and takes a step toward you.

At the same time, you realize that the attacker is backlit as a police spotlight shines on both of you. Now what?

Things to Consider:

  1. You have moved to within 15 feet of a person armed with a deadly weapon.
  2. The man on the ground was or is clearly in grave danger and is likely injured.
  3. The assault has stopped but could start again without warning (especially with that bat held over the assailant’s head).
  4. The police officers are on scene, but you don’t know what they see or believe they see. Those officers could be in your line of fire.
  5. Your gun is out and pointed at another person.

A Dynamic Situation

You have offered a verbal challenge and are now holding a bat-wielding attacker at gunpoint, but you believe at least one police officer has arrived on scene. Your proximity to the attacker puts you in a danger zone, but the assault seems to have stopped (though the attacker has clearly taken a step toward you).

Do you feel, based on your knowledge of the laws of your state, that you would be justified in shooting the man with the bat right now?

Are you using your gun to stop an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm? Do you have any other options at this point? Given the totality of the circumstances, what would you consider to be the best and worst possible outcomes of this situation?

Can you answer all of the above questions in the next two seconds? Go!

Location, Location, Location

You are outside in the dark. In front of you is a man with a bat who has clearly shown he is aggressive and violent. He is just 15 feet away from you and has taken a step in your direction. His posture is such that he could easily deliver a deadly blow to the person on the ground in front of you.

If this was the only information you had, you might be justified in using deadly force. But there is more to consider. Much more.

We stopped the narrative of this story where we did to show how quickly elements of a self-defense incident can change. Police may be on the scene. You have called the police. You see what might be a police spotlight, but at this point, you see no emergency lights, and no officers have identified themselves and given you instructions. What would a reasonable person believe in this situation? Could an attorney argue the opposite of that?

What if the man with the bat suddenly took just one more swing? What if he rushed your direction? Do these scenarios radically change what you are thinking? There is still someone behind your intended target. How can you deal with that?

Who Must You Really Protect?

You have your gun for self-defense. SELF-defense. Yes, it is good and noble to step in and help the victim of a savage beating, but in doing so, you have opened yourself to potential danger.

Could this man with the bat kill you? He is 15 feet away. Your gun is pointed at him, but what if you miss? What if you slip? What if … a million other things?

Now think about that light behind the attacker. If you start shooting now, how do you think the police are going to respond? You might find bullets coming your way. Could you possibly hit an officer? Have you considered any of this?

In most cases, the best decision is to hold your fire until you are convinced that if you don’t fire, you will very likely die. That certainly seems to be the case here, but every incident is fluid. Something may change.

Real Results?

The basis for this scenario comes from a real case. Can you guess what happened? If I said the gun-toting homeowner ended up in jail, would you be shocked?

Police arriving on the scene of a fight noticed a man pointing a gun at the combatants and immediately arrested the man with the gun. His stay in jail was short, but he went to jail nonetheless. Thank goodness he followed the orders of the police to the letter because there was a very real danger that he would be shot by responding officers.

What could he have done to prevent this?

Could he have stayed on the line with the 911 dispatcher? How would he then hold his flashlight, gun and phone? Could he have stayed in his house? Was it his responsibility to go outside and get involved in the fight?

A million questions surround this incident. What would you do? A fight erupts in your backyard. Should you shoot?

*With a USCCA Membership, you never need to feel alone in this scenario. Find out what real people have to say about the USCCA Family!

About Kevin Michalowski

Concealed Carry Magazine Executive Editor Kevin Michalowski is a fully certified law enforcement officer, patrolling rural Wisconsin in his spare time. A Certified Trainer through the USCCA and the NRA, he has participated in training across the U.S. as both a student and an instructor. Kevin is passionate about the concealed carry lifestyle, studying the legal, ethical and moral aspects of the use of force in self-defense. He is a graduate of the Force Science Institute Certification Course and has worked as a professional witness and consultant.

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