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A Midday Encounter: Analyzing Decisions After Close Call

»ABOUT A MONTH AGO, something happened that still bothers me greatly. It was midday during the middle of the week in our middle-class, well-maintained residential subdivision in relatively safe Boise, Idaho. I was sitting at my computer desk, next to a window that looks out on the front door porch. I watched as a young man in his late teens or early 20s walked up to our front door and rang our doorbell.

In and of itself, that is not a rare happening in our neighborhood, as handymen and salesmen commonly make the rounds. What raised a red flag immediately for me though, was that when he approached our door, he tried the screen door to see if it was open first and only resorted to ringing the bell when he saw me approaching the door.

Had he produced a weapon from behind himself or out of his pocket, I was in close enough proximity to him that my only option would have been immediate hand-to-hand combat.

My stepdaughter got there first. I said, “I’ve got this.” I opened the door to see what he wanted. He was wearing a white-and-black-splotched winter camouflage hoodie, blue jeans and tennis shoes. With my spider sense already tingling at this point, there are things I ask myself in retrospect.

  1. Why did I not arm myself with my pistol before opening the door?
  1. Why didn’t I caution my stepdaughter and give her some instruction, like, “Get your phone out and be ready to call 911 if I tell you”?
  1. Why did I not respond in a more aggressive and/or appropriate manner to a question he asked?

Had he produced a weapon from behind himself or out of his pocket, I was in close enough proximity to him that my only option would have been immediate hand-to-hand combat. I had just stupidly stepped out in front of him with only the mindset that I might have to engage this young fellow. Perhaps it was my greeting, my demeanor, my intent gazing into his eyes and watching his hands, or my willingness to get right in his face that spooked the young man.

“Hi, how can I help you?” I asked.

He had to back up a little bit, and I’m sure I made him a little uncomfortable with my boldness and proximity.

Then he asked his question: “Can you tell me how to get to the freeway from here?”

I couldn’t believe their brazen stupidity, nor mine at how I had just handled things by opening our door to a stranger and putting my family at risk.

It was hard not to break into laughter, and I’m sure he had no trouble interpreting the incredulous look on my face as I smiled and repeated his question. I might have even snickered a little.

With my eyebrows wrinkled up, I asked, “How to get to the freeway from here?”

You see, we only live two streets away from the freeway, about two or three stone throws, and you’d have to be deaf or an idiot not to notice all the traffic noise from the freeway that was directly behind him at that time of day.

“Well, you go down the street that way (pointing left) or that way (pointing right) and then turn toward the traffic noise,” I said, still looking suspiciously at him.

He thanked me and walked back to the street, where his partner was awaiting him, no car in sight, and they continued down the street. I stood and stared after the dubious duo.

I couldn’t believe their brazen stupidity, nor mine at how I had just handled things by opening our door to a stranger and putting my family at risk. I took out my cell phone, called police dispatch and told them two teens were in the neighborhood “casing houses” to break into. I gave them a description and requested that a patrol car come investigate.

Waiting For Police

As I waited, my righteous indignation began to well up at the prospect that these two individuals were obviously up to no good, doing it in my neighborhood and had come to my door. So, I went back into the house, got my truck keys and began to follow them from a short distance. They walked around the corner and were on the doorstep two houses down when I saw them next, talking to a neighbor I just happened to know. So, I pulled up in front of the house in my pick-up and parked, just to let my presence be known. The two promptly left and went back around the corner, out of sight.

I got out and went up to my neighbor’s house and asked what the pair wanted. Ed, my neighbor, was still standing there, having seen me drive up, and had this incredulous look on his face: “They said that their girlfriend had gotten sick and had a bad headache, their phone batteries had all died, and could they please come in to use the phone to get her some help?”

When my wife saw me arm myself and prepare to leave again to follow the young men, she had a royal fit. She only tolerates my interest in self-defense.

Luckily, he had refused them, as his wife and grandchild were home at the time. Who knows what could have transpired? I told Ed the different tactic they had just tried moments before at my house and that I had called the police. We commiserated only briefly and I quickly left so that I could maintain my vigil.

When I went back around the corner, the two miscreants were hoisting themselves up on another neighbor’s fence to get a better look into that backyard. Well, all things considered and with the police not on the scene yet, I returned home and armed myself with my .45, as I was determined to not let the pair break into any neighboring homes and I was not about to let them threaten me without some serious means of backup. I also carry a concealed weapons permit and figured it was my duty to help be “eyes and ears” for the police and my neighbors.

When my wife saw me arm myself and prepare to leave again to follow the young men, she had a royal fit. She only tolerates my interest in self-defense — my training classes, weapons and my concealed carry weapons permit — within the slimmest of margins to begin with, but now, she saw a potential “George Zimmerman” situation unfolding.

After a brief and heated exchange with my better half, I ignored her plea to just let the police handle it and left to “protect the neighborhood,” which, as I saw it, was my civic duty. I was not planning on confronting them, but I was not willing to be caught without proper protection should the need arise. After all, I was simply going to keep my eyes on them for the police, right?

I was now the intruder in someone else’s backyard “playing policeman.” I had also neglected to inform the police officer that I was armed.

Well, I returned to the house where they were looking into the backyard and knocked on the door. The two individuals had now disappeared. The owner was home and I informed her that she needed to be on the lookout for possible intruders and that the police had been notified. She thanked me and promptly secured her front and back doors.

Just about then, a patrol car cruised by. I hailed the officer, explained who I was and reported the suspicious activities and the last proximity of the suspicious parties. He drove off to continue his search, and as he did, I just knew the prowlers had to be in the next house down, as they had nowhere else they could be and I had not seen them leave in a car. So, I knocked on that door, several times, rang the bell and waited. I envisioned the two young men inside hiding or ransacking the place, so I just had to be sure. I opened the gate, entered the backyard and peered into the windows of the house, being a good neighbor, right?

Well, I was relieved to not see the intruders and not see any homeowner peering out from inside the house as I was peering in. I also got a sick feeling in my gut that my wife knew me better than I knew myself and that I had crossed the line. I was now the intruder in someone else’s backyard “playing policeman.” I had also neglected to inform the police officer that I was armed or licensed or that I intended to continue cruising the neighborhood to aid in the search. I left post-haste.

Good intentions and perceived “civic duty” aside, sometimes it’s better — and safer — for a responsible citizen — especially a responsibly armed citizen— to simply call 911 and be a good witness.

Good intentions and perceived “civic duty” aside, sometimes it’s better — and safer — for a responsible citizen — especially a responsibly armed citizen— to simply call 911 and be a good witness.

Looking Back

With the crystal-clarity of 20/20 hindsight, I relive the events of that day and try to correct the things I did wrong:

  • Answered the door unarmed, unprepared and without a plan.
  • Did not prepare my family in “what to do if” scenarios.
  • Became a “self-appointed protector” of the neighborhood and entered someone else’s property.

I also think I did some things the right way. Had those two gained entrance to my neighbor Ed’s house to “just use the phone,” what else were they really willing and prepared to do? Whatever the answer to that question might be, I was not willing to find out, and it is one of my only consolations from that day.

What do you do when someone knocks on your door? Thanks to that day, I now do things differently and realize how easy it is to just naturally, lazily let your guard down.

As much as we’d like to imagine otherwise, folks with bad intentions prey on innocent individuals in a multitude of places — even a relatively “safe” residential subdivision in relatively “safe” Boise, Idaho.

As much as we’d like to imagine otherwise, folks with bad intentions prey on innocent individuals in a multitude of places — even a relatively “safe” residential subdivision in relatively “safe” Boise, Idaho.


It seems I see the mantra, “When seconds count, help is minutes away” in every issue of Concealed Carry Magazine. To me, that means trust yourself with a gun but still call 911. Thank you for the support and inspiration you offer every responsibly armed American.

***

REAL-WORLD DECISIONS are made in fractions of a second. As I read this piece for the first time, I winced as it unfolded. I felt for this man — this responsible, well-intentioned man — who let his civic-mindedness draw him out into a situation that very easily could have turned almost immeasurably ugly.

However, more than anything else, I commend him for stepping forward and sharing this story with his fellow concealed carriers. I don’t know many people who would be big enough to tell such a story; most men, upon grasping the situation they’d created for themselves, would have returned home and never spoken of the incident again. After realizing that they’d strayed into the territory of preemptively taking the law into their own hands in the face of no immediate, imminent threat, that would have been the last of it.

This is as important a story as any other contained in these pages. Plenty of you reading this would prefer to think that you’d never make such a set of decisions; please make sure that is the case. This ended as well as it could have, and I’d hate to have to read one that didn’t.

–Ed Combs, Associate Editor

***

What Could Have Happened?

One of the most disagreeable and uncomfortable moments in life is seeing something wrong or even hearing about it or knowing it to be true — either something in progress or something completed, an armed robbery or the chalked outline of a murdered person — and being helpless to fix it. We are fixers by nature. Doers. Adjusters. Builders. Masters of right vs. wrong. Sure, it sounds a bit silly, but it’s true.

A couple years ago, my friend Jerry was assaulted in his front yard in Florida. As state apiarist, Jerry was deeply involved in finding solutions for the problems facing the honeybee, problems known generally as CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder).

Jerry lived in the country at the end of a dirt road, and often had men race pickup trucks up and down the road he lived beside. As a father of several children, this behavior was disturbing, especially when the drivers began to turn around and even perform high-speed wheelies in his yard. The drivers’ activities were understandable in the way that so much foolishness by young people is overlooked with a shake of the head and a slap on the wrist. Of course, the drivers created a dangerous situation and, as they roared across his yard, they often gave Jerry “the finger.”

Jerry had called the county sheriff on several occasions, but the responding deputy always arrived after the road partying group was gone and, in his frustration, Jerry did not get license numbers or good descriptions.

And so, one Saturday afternoon, Jerry — a husband and a scientist, a thoughtful and decent man — let the screen door slam shut behind him and went to confront the young men. And so it came as a terrible shock when I heard that the young men surrounded him and very nearly beat him to death. In his own yard. In front of his family. They were never apprehended. Although Jerry lived through a long stint in intensive care, he never fully recovered and he retired the following year. What went down in the road is anyone’s guess, but I believe that my friend courteously asked the boys to stop the racing and they … well, they nearly killed him.

What could possibly go wrong if you leave your secure house, your “castle,” and snoop through the neighborhood or confront troublemakers? As much as we want to fix the evils of the world, to lecture young perps on manners and correct behavior and Christian values, nothing good is generally going to follow from leaving a place of safety, with or without a weapon, to intervene in a situation that is not obviously life-threatening.

If the two young men in Sower’s story had attacked and were beating a neighbor in the street, he should certainly have called 911, grabbed his firearm and went to help. Otherwise, it would have been more prudent to call 911, lock the doors, inform the family, arm himself and wait.

Our Boise writer understood his intentions and has a good sense of the situation with possibly one exception, but it is not a small one. In Florida and many other states, he has no duty to retreat from a place where he has a right to be and thus his insistence on safeguarding his family and avoiding violence is commendable. But, if I am armed and confident that I can protect myself, my family and all I have worked for all these many years, I will not run and hide and will not abandon my home. The law will support this course of action.

Otherwise, a heart-to-heart with his stepdaughter and his wife are excellent ideas. But what might make wonderful sense is finding a training program that spends 30 minutes on the shooting line and cleaning your weapon and the balance of the day practicing scenarios, such as those detailed by our friend in Boise: how to discuss weapons and self-defense with a spouse who is afraid of guns, how to talk to your kids about opening the door, and routine neighborhood safety.

–Rick Sapp

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