Armed Response for an Unarmed Attack

You CAN use deadly force against an apparently unarmed person.

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"Be not afraid of any man, no matter what his size, when danger threatens call on me and I will equalize"-Old Colt Firearms Advertising Slogan

"God made Men, Colonel Colt made them Equal" was also a well-known saying-maybe also part of 19th Century Colt advertising-that expressed the concept of Colt handguns as being the "great equalizer".

This concept can mean two things. First, it can mean that someone armed with a handgun is the equal of another person also armed with a handgun. But most importantly for the point of this article, it also means that no matter how small or weak you are, you are made equal in a match against the largest unarmed attacker, if you have a handgun or other firearm and are willing to use it.

Legally, a law-abiding defender-at least here in Ohio-need only be in fear of losing their life (even without actually being in the process of being killed), or being at risk of "serious physical harm" (without actually being in the process of suffering a life altering injury) at the time that they decide to use a gun to defend themselves. That is the same standard that we have in law enforcement, although in law enforcement we have a lot of other means that our disposal that we can try and use before we resort to deadly force such as the Taser, Baton, Pepper Spray, Impact rounds, fist and feet, and as many other cops as we can possibly find to help us. Civilians don't have that advantage. However, police, like civilians are also not obligated to use ANY lesser option if they fear for their lives or fear imminent serious physical harm-despite what the media might say or imply.

I really thought about the issue of civilians using a firearm to defend themselves against unarmed attackers while speaking with one of best friends-also a cop-who was talking about his son, who is a very successful auto mechanic.

His son is in his 30's, and is big, I mean very big-like a bit over six feet tall and in the 300-pound range. He is not fat either. This guy is like walking wall with hands that dwarf mine. All I can say is that I am thrilled he is one of the good guys. He truly is a gentle giant and peaceable man-one that his dad says is capable of picking up a stripped engine block with one hand and curling it like a dumbbell. This is not only because of his sheer size, but because he has spent 20 years turning wrenches on large vehicles. At 5'11 and 180 lbs. the only option that I would have against someone who grabbed me would be to draw my primary or backup firearm if I could and shoot-probably multiple times-until I was released. And I wouldn't have much time to do it. But more importantly, I would be totally justified in shooting and so would you.

In fact, law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts are much more lenient in terms of how they view civilian uses of self-defense then they do law enforcement uses. This is simply because of the training law enforcement officers receive and the greater amount of experience they have in deploying deadly force (drawing guns without firing) then civilians-unless they have military combat experience.

Here is the point. You CAN use deadly force against an apparently unarmed person-and for the civilian, there needn't be as great a size and strength disparity that would exist between you and someone the size my friend's son. In fact it isn't even necessary that there be a disparity. Some of the toughest arrest resisters I have dealt with were smaller than me, and amped up on drugs, alcohol, rage or all of the above. Also, not seeing a weapon in someone's hand initially doesn't mean that they don't have one hidden on their person. A lot of stabbings start out as fistfights.

In fact, there are two other factors that exist in a violent encounter in addition to size and strength disparities. These factors are age (how old are you in relation to the suspect), and how many attackers are involved. For example, if you are 50 or older, you entered a period of life in which your are viewed as "prey" more often by thugs in their 20's or younger, and may in fact be more vulnerable. If you are outnumbered by multiple threats, the use of deadly force on your part also becomes more easily justifiable at an earlier stage of the confrontation.

Many years ago when I was in my early 30's, my girlfriend and I were going to attend an event at the Palace theatre in Columbus. I was dressed in a suit and overcoat, and carried Browning BDA .380 in a one size fits all ankle rig. I had spotted a group of four sketchy looking males down the street from where we parked. By the time we found a spot and exited our car, they were near us, some 20 feet away. I got out of the car to open the door for my girlfriend. We got out and stepped up to the sidewalk as I watched the group. They then began moving in closer to us, making lewd remarks about her. I looked directly at them and moved her behind me. There was no way that I could stop all four with my bare hands if things got really serious. An attack of four on one can rapidly become a lethal assault on the one. Think of the people killed or seriously injured by the "knockout game". I positioned my leg for an easy draw of the Browning and grasped my left pant leg. Fortunately for all involved, they moved along on their own, grumbling as they did. My girlfriend NEVER questioned why I carried an off-duty gun after that.

While it is good to have other options available in addition to a firearm, it is not a requirement under the law. Many situations have been stopped by people armed with pepper spray and Taser's, or simply by taking an aggressive stance. Certainly not every interpersonal contact requires the drawing of a firearm-but some of them do.

It all boils down to this. If you do use a firearm to defend yourself against an unarmed attacker (a home invasion should always be met with a firearm response) you will have to be able to justify morally to yourself, and legally to law enforcement and the courts that you were in fear of your life or in fear of serious physical harm. If that is the case, the use of a firearm as the "great equalizer" will still hold true.