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“Be Careful Out There…”

Those of us who carry firearms know better than most how important it is to be aware of our surroundings and circumstances at all times. We also know how to handle a routine traffic stop by police — or at least we should. But recent attacks on law enforcement have made police officers and sheriff’s deputies justifiably on edge.

One recently concluded case in Minnesota illustrates how easily things can spiral out of control. Philando Castile was pulled over by two officers on July 6, 2016, for faulty brake lights. Officer Jeronimo Yanez approached the vehicle, and dash-cam video and the officer’s uniform microphone recorded most of the conversation.

After Officer Yanez explained the reason for the stop, he asked Castile, “Do you have a license and insurance?” Castile said, “I do have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me,” at which point Yanez replied, “OK, OK, don’t reach for it then. Don’t pull it out.” Barely a second later, Officer Yanez said again, this time more excitedly, “Don’t pull it out!” and can be seen firing into the vehicle.

Upon firing, Yanez continued to yell, “Don’t move! Don’t move!” You can also hear a female occupant saying something like, “You just killed my boyfriend,” and some other barely discernable comments. Contrary to numerous internet myths, Castile did not notify the officers that he had a legal permit. It was his girlfriend who did, but only after the shooting.

The case made national news and sparked protests. Finally, after a grand jury investigation, Yanez, 29, was acquitted of manslaughter and other charges in June of 2017. On the day of the verdict, the city announced that the “public will be best served” if Yanez is no longer an officer. Yanez has since accepted a voluntary separation agreement. Case closed.

I am not here to second-guess the legal process, nor do I have any interest in rehashing all of the mistakes apparently made by both Yanez and Castile; most of you have probably heard them already. Instead, our goal at the USCCA is to inform our readers of whatever we can learn from such events that can help us all be safer in the future.

And the one thing this case reminds us is that whenever you are pulled over, have your hands EMPTY and on the wheel, and keep them there, especially once you have notified the officer that you are armed. DON’T MOVE. Don’t reach for your I.D. Sudden moves have always made cops jumpy ­— today, it’s even worse.

I teach my students to memorize a short script and to practice it, over and over, so that when they are stopped, they will not nervously babble. Basically, it goes like this:

Window halfway down. Hands on the steering wheel. Do NOT fumble for your license and carry credentials; it looks suspicious to an approaching officer, and you want NOTHING in your hands when he or she walks up to the window.

Smile. Greet him or her: “Officer, how can I help you?” Follow this immediately with, “Officer, I am LEGALLY carrying today. How do you want to handle that?” DO NOT MOVE until the officer tells you exactly what he or she wants — and then do so very SLOWLY.

The bottom line is that calm, careful and courteous is the right way to go … if you want to live.

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