We’re taught good manners at an early age. We’re taught we should help others when we can. These lessons make for a polite, functional society. Some people do not receive this training or simply reject it. Worse still, ordinary folks with evil intentions sometimes use our good manners and kindness against us.
At the southernmost tip of the Appalachian Mountain chain is the oldest state park in Alabama. Surrounded by the Talladega National Forest, it is an ideal place for hiking. Our defender and his girlfriend drove up from Florida to go hiking there. They were driving the Forest Service roads, enjoying the spectacular scenery. Because the woods are “lovely, dark and deep” but full of various reptiles, our defender took advantage of his rights under Alabama’s constitutional carry law to carry his pistol in an appendix holster.1 Indeed, our defender would find darkness deep in those woods on this day.
Also in the woods were two women living “off the grid” in a homeless encampment. Hidden from view by its location away from the road and a thick forest canopy, this setup held people illegally camping and trying to avoid encounters with the law. The two women needed money, and they had a plan to get it. They parked their car and put the hood up, feinting as two individuals in need of roadside assistance.
As the defender and his girlfriend drove under the shade of conifers, a woman stood by a car with its hood raised and flagged them down. She said her car had broken down. Could they help? Our defender peeked under the hood while his girlfriend called her father for advice on how to get the car running. Nothing the couple did seemed to work.
Turning on the Help
“Is there anything else we can do for you?” the couple asked when it was clear they could not get the car started. There was. One of the women produced a firearm and ordered the couple into the woods, telling them to drop their phones and hand over the passwords to their bank cards. The woman followed them into the woods, and they dropped their phones as instructed.
The judge in the case has placed a gag order on witnesses, and details about the shooting are sketchy. However, it appears that during this initial robbery, our defender stayed calm, looking for an opportunity to use his pistol. At some point, the woman with the gun was distracted, perhaps by picking up the cellphones. Our defender drew his weapon, warned her to drop the gun and ordered her to the ground.2
She did not comply. Instead, she tried to fire her weapon, but her gun malfunctioned. In spite of seeing the woman actively trying to work the gun, our defender stepped in front of his girlfriend and continued to order the robber to drop the gun. The woman fired; he was struck by one round in the abdomen. Wounded, he stayed in the fight and returned fire. He shot the robber in the leg and torso. It was then that the defender’s girlfriend noticed the robber’s accomplice fleeing the scene. The defender was hemorrhaging, and the girlfriend tried to stop the bleeding with her shirt. She retrieved her phone and called 911, and medical help arrived 20 minutes later — too late for our defender.
We see it all the time on TV: Police officers tell an armed suspect to drop the gun and get on the ground. Normally they do this from behind cover, with their weapons drawn, and when the suspect’s weapon is not pointed at them. But that’s law enforcement, and that’s TV.
Issuing a warning to someone pointing a weapon at you is foolish. While we respect life, the fatal mistake our defender made here was meeting a deadly threat with words. Perhaps his good manners told him it would be wrong to shoot a woman. Whatever the reason, he had no legal obligation to warn. In the time between him issuing the command and the woman bringing the weapon into play, he put not only his own life in peril but also that of his girlfriend. And he, unfortunately, paid the ultimate price.
There is no question that our defender had the marksmanship skills to defend himself. He shot the robber three times. She had to be airlifted to a trauma facility. He stopped the attack, but only after he had already been mortally wounded. This is a situation of good marksmanship but faulty judgment.
When an attacker has a gun pointed at you, you must employ what trainers teach as “tactical patience.” More simply: Wait your turn. When the robber is distracted, that’s the time to act — and to act decisively. The accomplice here had a shotgun; she was arrested as her 5-year-old child ran to her with it. Had she used that shotgun, more than just our defender likely would have perished. This is why it is important to deal decisively with a deadly threat, and, as good training indicates, scan for additional threats. Criminals tend to be cowards; they often bring along immoral support.
We don’t know if the defender had training, but it appears he did not. With training, he might have handled the situation differently. There is no question he died a hero in the minds of his girlfriend and her family, but he still perished because he did what he saw on TV rather than what a competent trainer would have instructed him to do.
You’re Only as Good as Your Training
While constitutional carry is a definite positive, everyone who decides to carry without a permit should still take at least one defensive handgunning course. Training improves safety and makes it easier to recognize threats and be ready when the time comes. In Hollywood, a gunshot wound to the shoulder is treated with a big gauze pad and an arm sling. In real life, a wound like that can be fatal. Simply put, being well-trained can mean the difference between life and death when evil flags you down along the backroads on a late summer’s day.
(1) Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” The New Republic 34, no. 431 (March 7, 1923): 47. Not all reptiles slither on the ground.
(2) This usually works in the movies, but rarely in real life.