Now or Never: The Gamble of Drawing Your Gun

» THOSE OF US WHO PAY MORE than a little attention to concealed carry and defensive shooting do this all the time: we look at reports of actual incidents and evaluate them. We apply the “what if” questions to real attacks and see what lessons we can draw. This can be a useful and valid method of preparation and training and is something I recommend everyone do.

Consider this news report and surveillance video of a robbery at a fast food restaurant near Houston in the summer of 2014. It is a chilling look at what really happens during a deadly force encounter. We are publishing the URL so that you may also read a news report of the incident:

http://www.khou.com/news/local/Cashier-shot-during-armed-robberyat-McDonalds-in-southwest-Houston-246089791.html

Here is an outline of what was seen in the surveillance video:

There are two different views from different angles inside the front of the store. Another view is from a camera behind the counter and there is one more of the area with the safe. We do not see much of the arrangement of the interior seating and table area. We see in the video two customers, a child (near the counter, initially in the lower right corner of the video), two or three employees, and the manager.

 

Doing nothing is a valid response and you should not let anyone make you feel cowardly or guilty if that is what you decide to do in a [dangerous] situation…

 

In the video, three men, all with handguns, rush through the side door in a single-file line. The first man—wearing black—vaults the counter without pause. The second man—in white—goes to the customer at the counter and pulls her down to her knees as the third—also in black—sweeps the area with his gun. The man in white releases the customer as soon as she is on her knees and goes around the divider and just into the dining area as his partner steps back roughly beside him but separated by what looks to be about 3 or 4 feet. The child runs to the woman on her knees just after the gunman releases her and steps away, and they huddle together for the duration of the video. The two in front sweep back and forth with their weapons.

Early on, one of the robbers shoots an employee who is immediately behind the counter. The employee survives. Anyone sitting in the dining area might have seen and certainly would have heard the shot.

That’s the setup. Assuming you were in the front in the area out of camera range when the three men burst through the door and that you were armed as normal, there are three broad possibilities for a response to this attack:

  • Escape
  • Do nothing
  • Engage

Of the three, escape seems less likely to be successful in this situation and probably should not be attempted. Doing nothing is a valid response and you should not let anyone make you feel cowardly or guilty if that is what you decide to do in a situation like this. It is a valid option and may well be the best option of the three, and it should be considered. I do advise against making this or any possible option an automatic one. As much as you can, avoid programming yourself.

Now let’s consider the option of engaging. I believe this situation, especially once the shot is fired, provides sufficient justification for a lethal-force response in most jurisdictions. That resolved, the questions are:

Is it practical (read that as: survivable) to engage the robbers?

What might be the best way to engage that gives you the highest chance of success and victory? Where and what are the opportunities offered to you by the robbers and how can you take advantage of them to best effect?

 

If you time your start correctly and move immediately after the first engagement, you can turn this into a series of successive (and quick) one-to-one engagements.

 

First understand that this is not nor does it have to be a three-on-one fight. I believe it would be a mistake to see it that way. In the video you can see that from the point of view of someone in the dining area: it starts at worst as a two-on-one fight as the first man takes himself completely away from that area. At no point do both of the remaining gunmen face or cover the same direction or area.

In fact, there is a second or two during the time the woman is pulled to her knees where both gunmen are facing the counter—time enough to covertly draw and prepare for possible or necessary action. There’s also the constant motion, back and forth, the splits of attention, and the moments when neither of them are looking hard at the dining area. This provides at least enough time for a double tap. If you time your start correctly and move immediately after the first engagement, you can turn this into a series of successive (and quick) one-to-one engagements. (Assuming a worst case where all three stay to fight.)

Second, understand that the woman and child in the order area are not in as much direct danger as you might think. This is another mistake I see made in discussions. Some describe this as an almost-hostage situation or seem to think that the gunmen were much closer to her and the child than they actually were. They also discounted the fact that the gunmen were standing while she was on her knees. Several feet of separation and a clear line to the upper body and head do not a hazard make if you have done your part in practice and training. That given, consider the idea of going low when you start your action—that is, lower yourself so that you can fire at a shallow angle upwards so as to maximize your chances of missing both that customer and any employees who happen to be near.

At the same time, you are taking advantage of the building structure and equipment behind the gunmen as backstops and missed-shot sponges. (No, we don’t plan to miss, but it does happen. If we can do something about that without compromising our chances of success, why not?) At the least, that would mean going to the level of the table when you start shooting. If you can go lower than that—under the table level—you could also gain time to make additional shots while the criminals are looking higher for the source of the incoming gunfire.

 

Unless you happen to be looking out a window and see the robbers before they get inside, you likely won’t have your weapon prepped when they arrive.

 

Now, examine the terrain (micro-terrain, actually) the way a general does before committing his army to battle. What terrain? The divider and other tables, chairs, and benches in the dining area, and the counter and equipment standing in the order area. The divider will not stop gunfire, but could block the black-shirted man’s view of you if you get low enough as you start. (And psychologically we tend not to shoot at things we can’t see, making the divider or a table surface a kind of virtual cover for you.) That should give you an extra moment or two to deal with the one in the dining area, the one in white, first. If you can move so that you can line the two up, you can also make the second man work around his partner to get to where he can shoot back at you. Moving so that multiple attackers can be faced in-line is a standard strategy for dealing with superior numbers.

Unless you happen to be looking out a window and see the robbers before they get inside, you likely won’t have your weapon prepped when they arrive. If you didn’t get prepped while they were both facing the counter, you will need to be able to draw and present from your chair or as you slide out of that chair. Have you worked on that? Consider also what kind of ruse you can employ to either lead the gunmen to discount you as a threat and/or give you a way to get your hands down to where the gun is without looking like you’re trying to draw. (This might be easier than trying to draw while both robbers are looking other directions.)

Considering this kind of situation, think about where and what you carry. Pocket or ankle carry will present a difficult draw, especially if you are moving off the seat. Also, does your normal carry pistol have enough rounds for you to, if necessary, fire two or more rounds at both men in front and still have something left if the one in back comes forward? This kind of robbery-assault situation is not uncommon; extra rounds would be helpful. Why not be ready for the worst-case scenarios like this?

Any response you consider is personal for your skill level and training, so I will not suggest a specific response. I will instead leave you with a summary of the lessons I think this event provides us:

  • Train yourself to search for opportunities.
  • Look at the surroundings like a commander looks at the terrain of a battlefield.
  • When necessary, look for ways to engage in one-on-one fights.
  • Use the way people think and react to expand your options and limit theirs.
  • Look a little beyond the average case when working on what you carry and how you carry it.
  • Practice the draw and presentation from odd positions.
  • Consider vertical, not just horizontal, movement as an option.
  • Look at how you can choose the moment and set up the action so that you can fight on the most favorable terms possible even when you didn’t start the fight.

 

By looking at things from a distance and thinking through them, we make ourselves less likely to freeze.

 

We may have weapons in our hands but in the end we fight with our minds. That’s why training the mind has to be the foundation of any physical training—especially training for physical combat. Studies such as this one are one way we can train our minds. By looking at things from a distance and thinking through them, we make ourselves less likely to freeze. We also improve the way we see, think, and act when something similar is close upon us. That is the true value of such exercises as the one you just went through with me here.

The one thing you don’t want to do is wave it off because you’ll never be found at a McDonalds or in “that kind of area.” This kind of event occurs at other places, too. Places that you might be at one day.

Do what you can to be ready. Start thinking about it now.

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