A Crazy Day at the Park: Should I Shoot?


There is one thing you can count on in the Midwest in August: humidity. In an effort to beat the heat, you have taken the kids to the splash pad at a nearby city park. You rest on a chaise as your 6- and 8-year-old children frolic and splash. Deep inside your beach bag, beneath towels and snacks, rests a compact 9mm pistol inside a holster that is attached to the side of the bag with Velcro.

You are there to let the kids blow off some steam and cool down beneath the cascading water of the giant mushroom fountain and the arcing spray of the blue seal spitting a constant stream of water at screaming and laughing children. Your children play well with each other and the other kids. You keep your eyes on them as they move through the crowd of wet little ones, all apparently bent on being louder and more excited than the rest. Your daughter is stomping in the puddle splash as your son points the water cannon at her. Both of them are laughing and smiling. But then an angry voice rises above all the others: “That’s BULLS&%T!”

Fight Next Door

On a nearby basketball court, two young men appear to be ready to fight. They are squaring off and yelling about something. When the fight erupts, it does not seem to be much of a surprise to anyone on the court. People on the splash pad seem to have only a passing interest in the events. But the fisticuffs between two boys quickly expand, and soon it seems that nearly everyone on the basketball court is fighting. People are moving in all directions, and the shouting seems to ebb and flow with the punches and kicks.

You decide it’s time to round up your kids and head home. You throw a towel over the shoulders of your youngest child as the eldest reaches for a pair of flip flops. Just as you pick up your bag to leave, a series of rapid shots ring out across the basketball court, and dozens of people scatter. Now the folks at the splash pad are taking notice. Most appear to be moving rapidly away from the basketball court in various directions. Your kids are now close to your side as you look for an escape route. People are running, screaming and bumping into you and others. As you consider moving toward the gate behind you, you clearly see through the crowd a young man standing still, holding a gun in a firing position. It seems like an eternity before he moves. When he does move, he appears to be running right toward you, gun in hand.

What do you do?

Your Self-Defense Options:

  1. Hunker down in place and let him run past you.
  2. Grab your kids and move away from the man with the gun, even if it means moving away from the exit.
  3. Go for your gun and start firing at the man with the gun.

Things to Consider:

This is an incredibly dynamic and dangerous situation with a ton of variables that could cause you problems. Not only are you in a crowded area, but it’s also very likely that the surfaces you must cross to make your escape are wet and slippery. What are you wearing for footwear? What about your kids? Can you move through this crowd without losing contact with your kids or suffering an injury as you attempt to move? Do you know exactly where the exit is and what you will do when you get to that exit? Have you discussed what your kids should do and where they should go if you become separated?

These elements are all part of your personal-protection plan. But trying to come up with such a plan during a chaotic event will not help anyone. Right now, you need to make an immediate decision. Your safety, the safety of your children and quite possibly the safety of everyone around you is at stake.

Hunker Down?

In a crowded location, effective movement can be difficult. Effective movement with two small children in tow can be nearly impossible. Typically, when shots are fired in a public place, most people panic. Some will sit still. Some will move. Very rarely will people move in an orderly fashion in a single direction toward safety and away from a shooter. Some people will likely take off running without even knowing exactly where the shots are coming from. Some people will be running without a real plan of where they want to go or what they want to do when they get there.

Movement is important, but movement without thought can cause you more problems at a time when you really need fewer problems. Don’t run blindly.

This situation is going to play out very quickly, and it is also very likely that the man with the gun is not thinking about shooting at you. All indications are that this was a fight that escalated into gunfire rather than an active-shooter event where someone is trying to rack up a body count. Taking a few seconds to determine your next course of action may be a prudent choice here.

The young man is now running more or less straight toward you, but remember: The nearest gate is directly behind you. The man is, in all likelihood, trying to escape. There is a pretty good chance that he is going to bolt right for the gate without giving you a second look. What else should you be thinking about?

Move Out of the Way?

This guy is now running in your direction. He still has a gun and he is just about your size, meaning he is considerably bigger than your children. He could crash into you or one of your children, possibly causing severe injury. You need to prepare for this by either getting very low or getting out of the way.

But there is more to consider. Did this guy shoot at someone, and will someone be shooting back at him? Depending on where the others from the basketball game are in relation to the young man, you could be in the line of fire if someone decides to shoot at him as he flees. Realistically speaking, there will be a triangle-shaped danger zone stretching out from where the shots were fired. Sadly, this triangle is not static, and there really is no way of knowing from where any other shooters might be firing.

Get Low and Find Cover

Keeping low and moving perpendicular to the young man’s line of travel should help you get out of the line of any return fire, but there are no guarantees in such a dynamic situation. You certainly want to be out of this guy’s way and as far away from him as possible, but bullets will keep flying until they hit something. Your movement should be toward the closest effective cover. Remember, cover is something that stops incoming bullets. Concealment will not stop bullets but rather just gives you a place to hide out of sight. Concealment is better than nothing, but cover will save your life.

If you are going to move, make sure you can control both of your kids. In this scenario, that means looping the bag with your gun in it over one arm and firmly grabbing one wrist of each kid and taking the kids with you to cover. While you are moving with your kids, there is no way you will be reaching for your gun and shooting. When you are moving, commit to the movement and get to where you are going quickly.

Drawing Your Gun and Shooting the Bad Guy?

At this point in the scenario, shooting at the bad guy might be the worst of your three options. First of all, are you 100 percent sure he IS the bad guy? He might be A bad guy, but he might have simply pulled out his pistol in an effort to defend himself against the actual shooter. He may not have fired a single shot in this incident and was simply trying to get away and be prepared to shoot back at anyone shooting at him.

Secondly, right now he presents a moving target in a very chaotic situation. It is very unlikely that you will have any form of target isolation in this scenario, and your shots could hit innocent bystanders. By this time, the shooting has stopped, so lawyers can and will argue that the Greater Danger Theory* no longer applies. At the same time, it appears that this person running with a gun is simply trying to facilitate an escape, not commit further violence.

On the other hand, you may think the person running with the gun still poses an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm. That could give you legal justification to fire your gun, but you are still faced with the moral question of knowing where your rounds will be going and who they will likely injure or kill. Your decision will follow you for the rest of your life.

In the End

There are no clear decisions; no bright line during this incident that says, “Grab your gun and shoot.” Instead, what this incident does show you is the need for a family action plan. If you take your children to a park, do you have a plan on where they should go if you get separated? Have you talked to your kids about this? Will you remember it under stress? We often tell our children to seek a police officer for help, but cops responding to this incident will very likely ignore your child until they have secured the scene. Having that predetermined meeting point and talking with your child about it can really help.

Also, do your children know to follow your instructions instantly in times of danger? Young children are great for asking, “Why?” when given instructions. Do you have a code word that lets the children know this is a life-threatening situation and there is no time for questions? As a parent, you need to know that this code word demands instant compliance and is not to be used lightly. If you use it where there is no real danger, your kids will likely ignore it when it is most important.

You are at a public park playing with your kids when someone starts shooting. What would you do? Join the USCCA Community to answer the poll.

An image link to a "What Would You Do?" poll at the USCCA Community website.

*The Greater Danger Theory allows us to argue that failure to take a shot poses a greater danger than taking a shot. Typically, it applies to active-shooter situations where one does not have effective target isolation but needs to fire on the active shooter in order to stop a mass killing. In that case, if one or more of your rounds strike an innocent bystander, the theory is that failing to shoot would have left more people to die or be injured. The Greater Danger Theory does not absolve you of all responsibility. It is simply a point that prosecutors and defense attorneys will argue over during the investigation into the shooting.

About Kevin Michalowski

Concealed Carry Magazine Executive Editor Kevin Michalowski is a fully certified law enforcement officer, patrolling the mean streets of rural Wisconsin in his spare time. A Certified Trainer through the USCCA and the NRA, he has attended 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.



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