Convenience Store Chaos: Should I Shoot?

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After six hours on the road, you pull off for gas and a chance to stretch your legs. You’ve got four more hours to go before you get to your parents’ retirement home on the coast. It’s getting late, and your wife and children decide to stay in the car while you gas up, wash the windows and step inside to buy some snacks. You are the only car at the pumps, and the convenience store looks quiet. Through the window, you see the clerk looking bored behind the counter. As you return the nozzle to the pump and head inside, you make a mental list of what you need to bring back to the car: four bottles of water, some popcorn (who will vacuum that up after the trip?), cheese sticks and “something healthy.”

The air conditioning inside the store feels good after standing in the humid night air, and you make a hard right toward the cooler holding soft drinks and water bottles. The cooler holding cups of fruit and hard-boiled eggs catches your eye, and you grab a cup of grapes, rethink your choice and go for apple slices. You head down past the chips, looking for the popcorn, when you hear the door chime, indicating that someone else has come into the store. You think nothing of it, aside from the fact that maybe one of your children has come in to revise an order for snacks.

Then you hear a loud, angry voice say, “I’m not f*&@king around.”

Think Fast

You quickly glance out the window and see that a non-descript beater of a car is parked in front of the doors to the store. One person sits behind the wheel. Your SUV still sits by the gas pump, well away from the doors and apparently unnoticed by the man now inside the store.

You move to get a better vantage point and see a ragged-looking guy in a black T-shirt holding his hand out as if pointing something at the clerk. He is angrily demanding money, and the clerk appears frazzled, frantically trying to open the register. The robber shouts again for the clerk to hurry. There is a pause. The robber shouts “That’s it? Where’s the rest!?! I will kill you!”

From your position, you can see the back of the robber but still can’t see what is in his hand. Your cellphone is sitting on the center console of your SUV outside, but your holstered sidearm is on your hip under your shirt.

Your Self-Defense Options:

  1. Remain out of sight, draw your gun and prepare for possible action
  2. Pull your gun and take the only shot you have at the robber’s back.
  3. Exit the store through an emergency door nearby to be closer to your family.
  4. Quietly move to the restroom, completely out of sight of the robber.
  5. Cause a distraction to see if that causes the robber to flee.

Things to Consider:

You still have an armload of snacks and beverages. You need to put them down quietly so that your hands are free for the next step. It might be wise, where they are available, to always choose a shopping basket when inside a convenience store. Doing so gives you much more control over the things you have in your hands and, in a pinch, can work as an improvised impact weapon if you need to use it as such. But the first step is to clear your hands and get ready for a fight.

From a tactical standpoint, you appear to be in a good position. It appears the robber and his accomplice have not seen you and likely are paying no attention to your vehicle outside. Still, you have no means of communicating with your family. Have you established a family action plan for such a scenario? What should your spouse do if robbers enter the store while you are separated? Does your spouse carry a gun? Who will protect the children? How will you protect the children? That is a different scenario for another time, but it is something you must think about. Right now, you do not want your spouse to get impatient and start honking the horn or, worse yet, walk into the store to check on you.

It appears that staying out of sight but ready to react is a very solid option at this point. If the robber starts shooting at the clerk, you have a clear shot at the robber, but likely your shot will be too late to help the clerk. Still, you have not established what type of weapon the robber is holding, if any. Right now you are just speculating. Is it too early to get into the fight?

A Shot in the Back…

Regardless of what you have seen in Western movies from the last century, there can be justification for shooting someone in the back. But you WILL have a tough hill to climb during the investigation and possible trial afterward. There is still a stigma surrounding shooting someone in the back. Remember, your justification for the use of deadly force is that your intention was to stop an imminent threat, to yourself or another person, of death or great bodily harm.

Several elements are working in your favor here for taking a shot in the back. You have clearly heard the robber threaten to kill the clerk. A reasonable person would likely believe that a person assuming the posture you see and uttering the words you hear is armed. His actions clearly indicate this is a robbery.

Now you need to be realistic. Are you certain you can make the shot? Is the target isolated? Is the likelihood of your bullet hitting anyone else very low? Have you trained? Can you prove that you have trained to a level of skill that will provide you this confidence? All of these questions could come up during the investigation.

Possible Aftermath

So let’s say you take the shot and hit the bad guy … and he turns out to be holding a box-end wrench. Such a wrench can still be used as a deadly weapon, but know that the investigation will change course as the police realize you did not know for sure what sort of weapon he was holding when you fired. This is not to say you will be in more or less trouble for your actions. It is to say that the questioning you must endure will be different.

This situation may indeed call for a shot in the back, but know that taking such a shot changes the game when it comes to the investigation and the likely civil suit the family will file after this incident.

If you don’t shoot — well — the robber might shoot the clerk. Do you want to save the clerk or just save yourself and your family?

Making a Break for It

If you bail out and hit the emergency exit, you can be certain the alarm will sound, and the robber will now know you are in the store. Tactically, this might be a good thing. The robber will likely turn to locate and assess the noise. This could give the clerk time to bolt for cover. But now the robber sees you and could decide to take a shot at you — if he is indeed armed with a gun.

If you bolt and head for your vehicle, you need to know what you are going to do when you get there. Your actions will be dependent on the actions of the robber. If he is throwing shots your way, you will want to get your family out of the car and toward suitable cover. The vehicle provides only marginal cover and restricts evasive movement. But on the other hand, trying to get your spouse and two kids all moving in the same direction (toward safety) without any time for you to give them an explanation might be a problem.

Before you make this move, ask yourself, “Are they reasonably safe where they are?” If they are, you might not want to direct the attention of an armed robber their way.

Hiding in the Restroom

There is some good and some bad about this idea. Getting completely out of the way of the robber may be a good thing on the surface. But remember, there is typically only one way into a restroom. And that means there is typically only one way out of a restroom. If you head that way to hide, resign yourself to the fact that you will have to fight your way out if the robber notices and follows you. But then again, he has to come through a fatal funnel just to get to you. This gives you a bit of an advantage. Whether or not the robber is likely to follow you is open for debate. But I choose to not always count on a criminal’s good sense when trying to plan for my personal protection.

Hiding in the restroom, or any other small room for that matter, also severely limits your ability to see what is going on around you. If you go into hiding, you cannot see the robber. You will not know if he and his accomplice have decided to jack your family car. You are 100 percent out of the fight if you go into the restroom, and you have to move through that fatal funnel to get back out. Have you trained for that?

Making a Scene

You might gain a tactical advantage by lobbing a bottle of water toward the front door. But you’d better have a plan as to what you want to do as soon as that jug hits the floor. Certainly, the robber is going to look that way, but what will he do next, and have you thought about your follow-up actions? If he is armed with a gun, will you shoot him? What if he fires a shot out of fear or anger? Will he be shooting toward your family? Could your distraction give the clerk time to move?

Don’t cause a scene without having a plan. Even an imperfect plan, when executed with speed and determination, can give you the advantage. Just be ready to move when you call attention to yourself.

The choices you make in these fateful seconds will stick with you for the rest of your life and will impact everyone else involved in this incident. You need to know and follow the laws of the jurisdiction. You need to train and be honest about your level of skill (and, honestly, knock another 40 percent off that skill level because of the stress). Finally, you need to be ready to commit to your actions and carry them out with the conviction of a person fighting to save lives.

You are trapped in the aisle of a convenience store. Your family is outside. You have no phone. What would you do?

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.