‘But I Didn’t Start It!’

The above excuse seldom worked when we were kids, and it is even less effective in justifying the use of deadly force. True, it is important to avoid being the aggressor in an altercation because being the aggressor will almost certainly damage your claim of self-defense.

But maintaining your victim status in any confrontation involves much more. A good example is a case an instructor friend of mine related. After summarizing the incident, he had the student involved (whom I’ll call Susan) call me.

As she described it, Susan was driving home from work during the afternoon rush hour. She was in the right-hand lane of a four-lane commercial street, approaching an intersection. As the light was red, she was preparing to stop when a “gray SUV” passed her on the left, then swerved into her lane and slammed on the brakes.

How You React Matters

After a “panic stop” with screeching tires, Susan said her heart was pounding with fear. But unfortunately, anger quickly took over. She leaned on her horn, opened her window and yelled something like, “What the hell are you doing?”

First mistake.

The light changed, and although the SUV had its right turn signal on, the driver went straight ahead, then moved over to the middle lane and slowed down. As Susan passed, a young male passenger in the SUV had his window down and began screaming at her and “flipping her off.”

Susan tried to slow down, but the other driver did the same, with the passenger continuing to yell obscenities and waving his fist at her. With the heavy traffic piling up behind, drivers began honking their horns.

Bad Choices. Bad Outcomes.

Susan started out being a victim, but then, instead of simply calling 911 and reporting the threatening incident (including describing the offending vehicle), she retrieved her gun from her car’s console and waved it at the other vehicle.

Second mistake.

The SUV immediately slowed down, and Susan quickly turned right at the next intersection. The other vehicle didn’t follow her. Susan felt relieved. She’d escaped a bad situation. All good, right?

Unfortunately, you can probably guess what happened next. About 10 minutes after the incident, Susan heard the “whoop, whoop” of the police car that was visible in her rear-view mirror. She pulled over, shut off her engine, put her window halfway down and put both hands on the steering wheel.

Susan said that the officer was extremely polite, but after answering several questions related to a report of a “driver brandishing a gun,” she found herself under arrest. Later that day, she was initially charged with assault with a deadly weapon — a felony.

This case is awaiting a preliminary hearing. Susan said her attorney is confident that he can get the charges dismissed or at least reduced to something like misdemeanor assault. Considering her clean record, based on my experience in such cases, I tend to agree. But there are no guarantees.

Mental Preparedness Is Key

Fear has a powerful influence on human behavior. And few things evoke heart-stopping fear like being attacked by another human being. That’s why mental preparation is just as important as firearms training (maybe even more so).

Because practicing in advance how we will react to common situations like road rage can help us to avoid bad decisions, increasing our chances of surviving not just physically but also legally.

Stay safe.