Like most defensive firearms instructors, I spend quite a bit of time in my classes going over how important it is to call 911 immediately after an incident involving your firearm, whether or not shots were fired. But when gunshots ring out, anyone within earshot who has a phone (and today, that means just about everyone) will also likely be punching up 911.
Callers to 911 will also include people who believe themselves to be witnesses. I have seen in court how often such people will testify to what they think they saw rather than what actually happened. And this can cause considerable risk to you, not only when the police arrive on scene, but also later in court.
In many such cases, these people did not genuinely witness the entire shooting. In fact, they turned to look only after they heard the gunshots. Thus, they missed the critical events that led up to the gunfire. This can dramatically affect what they say to the 911 operator.
For example, I recall a case in which the defendant was walking to his car in a food store parking lot. He was approached by three young assailants, one of whom brandished a tire iron, demanding his wallet and watch. The defendant backed away, yelling, “Stay back! I’m armed!” and reached for his pistol. Two people from the group rushed toward him, and he drew and fired twice, hitting the attacker wielding the tire iron once. They all fled, but the wounded assailant eventually wound up arrested when he went for medical treatment.
In the meantime, an elderly woman exiting the store heard the gun shots and turned to see what was going. By that time, she saw only the defendant standing there with a gun in his hand. She immediately called 911 and excitedly told the operator that there had been a shooting at her location. She then went on to describe the shooter, who she believed was actually the assailant rather than the victim. Luckily, the legally armed citizen had been well-trained and immediately called 911 himself. When the police arrived, he had already reholstered and concealed his firearm. He kept his arms out to the side (rather than raised, which implies guilt), palms open and visible, and greeted police. In this case, things worked out, but things could easily have gotten out of control.
But there is another call that can be even more damaging. I’m talking about incidents in which the attackers decide to call 911. Why would they do that? Simple: to divert the guilt. Knowing they could be apprehended, and desiring to create a situation based on hearsay, they report that a crazy person shot their friend for no reason.
There is a persistent myth that, in every confrontation, the first person who calls 911 wins. Well, not quite. This notion has become an exaggeration of the presumption that the one who calls 911 first in a domestic disturbance call is likely the victim, which is often the case. Regardless, it is in your best interest to call 911 immediately. And remember that less is more. Talk with a good defense attorney to learn exactly what wording to use. Then, once you have said your piece, hang up and wait for the cops to show up.
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