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The Real Cost of Escalation


I have read quite a few stories of real-life shootings, deadly force incidents and self-defense scenarios. And in each, there are moments when either party can back down, back away or de-escalate. There are opportunities for either party to move out of the red zone instead of continuing the escalation.

Fight or … Fight?

But maybe backing down isn’t in our DNA. It’s too like giving up or giving in; accepting defeat or acknowledging that we don’t have the power to control our own lives. Maybe fight or flight is hard-wired into us.

On the other hand, perhaps “incidents” wherein people do back away from a potentially deadly encounter don’t make the news. Maybe they aren’t as interesting as the standard “if it bleeds, it leads” news feed. I expect that plays a part in what flashes in front of our eyes each day.

Slow-Motion Train Wreck

What I often see are stories where it’s clear to the reader — if not the participants — that a shooting is inevitable. From the first curses or the first gestures, it’s obvious that each participant’s future will soon involve police and EMTs. These will be followed by lawyers and an endless cycle of motions, consultations, hearings, medical doctors and written checks.

A wrinkled white male hand writing a check using a bright blue metal ballpoint pen with advertising on the side

Whether or not to use your concealed firearm can be calculated by a very straightforward cost-benefit analysis. But this becomes difficult-to-impossible in a moment of stress. (Photo by Rick Sapp)

What Is Your Pride Worth?

A shooting isn’t inevitable in every confrontation — not even if the encounter turns physical. I suspect that in most situations — even shoving matches involving name-calling and finger-raising — that brandishing would be the very last alternative. People probably have one or more good opportunities to withdraw before somebody pulls a weapon.

Here’s the outline of a case from Chicago that will be covered in greater detail in an upcoming issue of Concealed Carry Magazine. Names have been changed:

  • Carol makes an unexpected lane change — unexpected, at least, to Maria.
  • Maria, with three children in the car, takes offense. She retaliates by maneuvering dangerously around Carol.
  • Carol shouts something insulting about Maria’s heritage and raises a middle finger.
  • Maria pulls alongside Carol’s car and tosses a large cup of soda inside.
  • Maria now makes an effort to race away.
  • Carol follows and corners Maria’s car. She calls 911.
  • Leaving her children in the car, Maria jumps out and assaults Carol.
  • Carol is knocked down and draws her legal, concealed firearm.
  • Carol shoots Maria once in the chest.

As a result of the altercation, Carol has been in and out of court — criminal and civil — for nearly two years. Naturally, anti-gun, left-wing Chicago prosecutors charged her with attempted murder. It cost, she says, more than $30,000 to be cleared of all charges. She was fired from her job and had to fight to get it back (with vacation and retirement restored). Now she still must endure Maria’s $50,000 civil case. (Maria has undergone multiple, serious surgeries. She lost a kidney and the bullet damaged other internal organs.)

Tally the True Cost

My question is, was it all worth it? Ignore for the moment the question of who was right and who was wrong. Surely, looking back, both women would say “no.” The incident did not merit all the aggravation — or the resulting pain, expense and suffering.

At multiple points in the interaction, either woman could have responded differently or driven away. No flying cup of soda or jumping out of the car and leaving three small children behind. No finger in the air or blocking someone from escape.

The criminal and civil trials and the surgeries could have been avoided if these two individuals had merely stopped for a moment to take a deep breath and think. It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis, but difficult to calculate when emotion clouds our mind.

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