Defcon 1: Road Rage

Todd saw a guy with a gun threatening to kill him, so he pulled his own handgun, leaned across in front of his wife and fired twice.

Todd saw a guy with a gun threatening to kill him, so he pulled his own handgun, leaned across in front of his wife and fired twice.

OF ALL THE PERILS FACING carry permit holders, road rage is the one most likely to get us into serious trouble. While few of us will stumble into an armed robbery in progress, we will all encounter rude, reckless and downright hostile drivers on a daily basis. And it can become a serious legal issue, especially if it leads to a shooting.

As a carry permit instructor, I strongly warn my students to avoid road rage at all costs, if only for their self-preservation. But it can also affect the rest of us who carry. Because it’s exactly the kind of incident that anti-gun activists and legislators would love to use as an excuse to restrict our rights.

Even more disturbing is that many carry permit instructors apparently do not even discuss road rage in their classes, or merely gloss over it as if it were no big deal. Seriously? Giving the finger to some guy in another car while carrying a gun is no big deal to them? Are they insane or just stupid?

 

Remember, the law does not allow you to pick a fight, then when it escalates into a serious threat, suddenly claim the right to use deadly force.

 

The nation’s top criminal defense attorneys, especially those who regularly defend carry permit holders, will tell you that road rage is a huge mistake. Attorney Peter Hobart reminds us of a fundamental principle of self-defense:

The general criminal law allows for the use of deadly force anytime a faultless victim reasonably believes that unlawful force which will cause death or grievous bodily harm is about to be used on him.

“The faultlessness requirement does not mean that the victim must be pure of heart and without sin. It does mean that the right of self-defense will not be available to one who has substantially encouraged or provoked an attack.”

Prosecutors and judges remind juries that there must be “an absence of aggression or provocation on the part of the defendant” in order to justify the use of force, especially deadly force, in self-defense.

Any prosecutor worthy of the name knows that he (or she) will likely be able to convince a jury that giving another driver the finger is a provocative act, especially if it resulted in a shooting.

Remember, the law does not allow you to pick a fight, then when it escalates into a serious threat, suddenly claim the right to use deadly force. Permit holders who make the mistake of letting their emotions overrule their common sense risk winding up in the defendant’s chair in a courtroom.

But the larger question is why anyone would be stupid enough to get involved in a road rage at all even if they weren’t carrying a gun! My father was a semi-pro football player and a master sergeant in the Air Force during World War II. He was also a world-class poker player, and he once told us, “There are two things in life you never do — play cards or pick a fight with someone you don’t know.”

And when you are engaging with another driver, picking a fight is exactly what you are doing. And it can lead to the surprise of your life. An incident here in Minnesota is a perfect illustration of the foolishness of road rage.

In June of 2007, a 32-year-old security employee and carry permit holder (whom we will call “Todd”) was in an SUV with his wife sitting next to him, and his two young children in back. Todd was stopped behind several cars at a red light, when he glanced at the side-view mirror on his wife’s side of the car. Todd noticed a Monte Carlo somewhere back in the line of traffic pull out onto the right hand shoulder of the road, pass all of the cars, then pull in front of the lead car and run right through the red light.

 

He waved a gun out the window at Todd’s wife, and yelled, “You Motherf—-r! I’ll kill you, and I don’t even care about jail!”

 

When the Monte Carlo passed his SUV, what should Todd have done? How about nothing? Why not just ignore the incident? Unfortunately, that was not what he did.

Todd could have simply called 911 and reported the vehicle running a red light — unlikely to result in much reaction by police but, hey, at least he would be acting somewhat responsibly. But Todd didn’t do that either.

Like too many people today, Todd seemed to think it was his job to let another driver know what he thought of his/her driving. As the Monte Carlo passed his SUV, Todd leaned on his horn, stuck his left hand out of his window and flipped off the other driver, setting in motion events that would alter his life forever.

As it turned out, the driver of the Monte Carlo had heard the horn, turned his head and saw Todd’s gesture. After running the red light, he pulled off to the side of the road and waited for the line of cars (including Todd) to catch up. He then pulled in behind the other cars.

At the next light, which was red, Todd was stopped behind a car in the middle lane. The right lane was “Right Turn Only” and the Monte Carlo pulled up and stopped on the right hand side of Todd’s SUV. He waved a gun out the window at Todd’s wife, and yelled, “You Motherf—-r! I’ll kill you, and I don’t even care about jail!”

Rather odd comment, wasn’t it? More on that later.

Todd saw a guy with a gun threatening to kill him, so he pulled his own handgun, leaned across in front of his wife and fired twice. The light changed to green, Todd took off, and his wife called 911 (babbling incoherently, by the way). They then pulled into a gas station a few blocks down and waited for the police.

 

Finally, in 2009, after two years of legal wrangling, Todd had to plead guilty to felony negligent discharge of a firearm.

 

Meanwhile, the driver of the Monte Carlo had been hit, a minor wound in his thigh, but he, too made a 911 call. It went like this:

911 Operator: “Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”

Monte Carlo Driver: “Officer down!”

That’s right, Todd had shot an off-duty, undercover, narcotics detective. I have a question for you: How do you think this is going to work out for our friend, Todd?

By the way, how many cops do you think showed up after that call? All of them would be pretty close — 12 cars from four different agencies.

Now guess which of these two gentlemen wound up in a police car in handcuffs. That would be Todd, of course.

In a perfect world, Todd would still probably have been in trouble but the police officer would also have been charged with at least making a terroristic threat, if not second degree assault with a deadly weapon.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. Todd was arrested, got out on bail the next day, and when he showed up for work and explained his absence, he was immediately fired. No security company is going to keep an employee who just shot a cop — regardless of the circumstances.

Finally, in 2009, after two years of legal wrangling, Todd had to plead guilty to felony negligent discharge of a firearm. He got 60 days in jail, and as a convicted felon, lost his right to vote and to own firearms of any kind. Perhaps worst of all, his employment prospects will now be considerably limited … for the rest of his life.

And the cop? The state’s attorney declined to prosecute. (They don’t want to lose the support of police.) But even more outrageously, the officer was given a commendation for “being wounded on duty” in spite of the fact that he was suspected of slacking (not working) at the time of the incident. Now you know why he didn’t “care about jail.”

 

That’s right, Todd had shot an off-duty, undercover, narcotics detective. I have a question for you: How do you think this is going to work out for our friend, Todd?

 

“Not fair!” you say. Maybe. But Todd had a choice. All he had to do when he saw that guy driving down the shoulder of the road was ignore him. But instead, Todd just had to lean on that horn and give him the finger. To his lifelong regret. But again, why didn’t his carry permit instructor warn him about road rage?

Now think of all the people you might run into — meth heads, gangbangers, drug dealers. The list is endless. Heck, my circle of friends includes combat veterans, Navy SEALS, cops, martial artists and private sector contractors, including a former “covert asset” for the CIA. And they all carry guns. You really have no idea who you’re about to provoke.

So do yourself (and the rest of us) a favor. Drive courteously. Never flip off anyone. Ever. No tailgating. No flashing your lights. Someone’s coming down the ramp to merge? Slow down and let them in, or move over if you can. Someone doesn’t take their turn at the four-way stop? So what? Let it go.

There is no upside to leaning on your horn or giving someone the finger. But the downside could be disastrous.

Just ask Todd.

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