Here is the scenario: You are walking out of the grocery store after dark. You have a single bag of groceries, so you left the cart inside the store and are carrying the bag with both hands. You are carrying a fully loaded defensive firearm in an inside-the-waistband rig, covered by your shirt, and your cellphone. Your gun is not equipped with a weapon-mounted light, and you have left your hand-held light in the car.

As you cross the parking lot, headed toward your car, you hear a woman yell, “Get off me!” Two rows away, you see two people struggling. A man holds the woman by both wrists and the pair moves in a circular pattern. The woman pulls backward, trying to escape. The movement is dynamic.

The man is considerably larger than the woman, and she screams again, “Get off me!” This is followed by the man uttering several expletives as he continues to struggle with the woman. He appears to be attempting to pull her toward a van parked nearby, but the woman starts kicking him in the lower legs. He quickly throws both arms around her waist as she spins in another effort to escape.

He now has his arms around her waist from behind, pinning her arms to her body, and has picked her up off the ground, carrying her toward the van. As she attempts to scream again, he places his left hand over her mouth. She bites his hand, and he is forced to remove it from her mouth. She screams one more time, “Get off me! Help! Someone, help me!” The man appears to deliver a punch to the side of the woman’s head.

What would you do?

Your Defensive Options:

  1. Do nothing. This is none of your business, and you have melting ice cream in your bag.
  2. Set your bag of groceries on the ground, draw your weapon to the low-ready and, using the vehicles for concealment, move in for a closer look.
  3. Set your bag of groceries on the ground, pull out your cellphone, call 911 and attempt to explain the situation as you move closer to get a better look.
  4. Can you think of another option?

Things to Consider:

You may very well be witnessing an attempted stranger abduction. These situations, while quite rare, are very dynamic and unpredictable. If the stranger can get his victim into a vehicle and become mobile, the chances of the victim surviving the encounter are very slim. You may be authorized to use force, including deadly force, to stop this assault.

Remember, you can use deadly force to stop an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm. So, by law, you may be authorized to act in defense of this woman. But this decision opens up an entire list of new questions:

  1. Have you called for help? Always try to get the cavalry headed your way before you take action. Sometimes things happen so quickly you can’t make the call and intervene at the same time. From a legal standpoint, it might be better to make the call first. From a tactical/moral/ethical perspective, you might choose to act first. This choice is personal and should be based on your level of training, experience and knowledge of the immediate situation.
  2. Speaking of that knowledge, are you sure of what is going on? Could this be a store security officer trying to stop a shoplifter? Is there some other scenario that could be playing out here? Sadly, you will have to get involved to REALLY know.
  3. Approach considerations: As you attempt to approach the struggling couple, you must be on the lookout for any possible accomplices. The parking lot offers myriad hiding places and ambush sites. What is the lighting like? Can you see clearly or are there deep shadows? Can you control the distance? How close do you need to get before you intervene? Have you scanned the area for other potential threats before you emerge and make yourself known? Are you in a position that will allow you to seek cover if things go south? Can you see the vehicle license plate?
  4. Do you need to have your gun out? This could be a tough call. Sometimes just the fact that a witness has arrived on the scene will take a criminal attacker out of his plan. Does your state have severe “brandishing” laws? Could you be held legally accountable if you arrived on scene with your gun out and it turns out you didn’t need it? Can you defend your weapon if an unseen accomplice attacks you? How quickly do you think you might need to draw and shoot?
  5. Have you considered the target factors? Remember the three requirements: target acquisition, target identification, target isolation. If you believe you need to use your weapon to stop this assault, can you fire an accurate shot to end the threat but cause limited property damage and no other personal injury if you miss? Can you do this firing one-handed because you have the cellphone in your non-dominant hand?
  6. Should you offer a verbal challenge? Could your verbal challenge prompt the attacker to release the victim, or will it give him time to use her as a human shield or possibly stab or shoot her while you are talking? A verbal challenge is often helpful in court, but sometimes it is not required or advised in the moment. This is, once again, your choice.
  7. Are you prepared for what happens after the incident? If the attacker lets the woman go free, what will you do? If he succeeds in getting her into the van, what will you do? If he stabs or shoots her and dumps her on the ground, are you prepared for that?

What appears above is by no means a comprehensive list of every option available to you. This is simply designed to make you think about the vast number of considerations facing you if you stumble into an incident that requires an immediate decision. You are not merely making one choice. This is not a simple matter of saying, “I’d pull my gun and confront the guy.”

Asking, “What would you do?” starts an incredibly long decision-making matrix that you must consider well before you face such a decision.