If He Doesn’t Point the Gun at You, You Can’t Fire…Right?

By Scott Buhrmaster  |   Mar 4, 2021

Picture this. You find yourself face-to-face with a guy who’s holding a gun against his thigh.

He’s not pointing it at you. He’s also not going to give it up.

How do you know?

Because he’s told you so. Twice.

He’s sexually assaulted a woman, stolen her car, fled from police and he’s right in front of you, just a few feet away with no barriers between the two of you.

What are you going to do? What can you do? Shoot him?

Let’s take a look at a recent encounter that put an officer in the terrible position of having to make that decision.

Early last month, Ogden, UT police received a report of an aggravated robbery, sexual assault and vehicle theft called in by a woman who said a man brandished a gun while assaulting her, then stole her car.

An officer spotted the stolen vehicle and saw the suspect sitting in the driver’s seat with another female—who had done nothing wrong aside from being in the wrong car at the wrong time with the wrong person—in the passenger seat.

As officers approached, the suspect jumped out and fled on foot.

Police set up a perimeter and began searching for the suspect. One of the officers spotted footsteps in the snow behind a home and followed them. They ended at the back of a red pickup truck parked in an open-air garage.

Watch the video, then we’ll discuss:

As the officer approached, he spotted the suspect hiding in the back of the bed. He immediately and repeatedly ordered the suspect to show his hands.

The man ignored the commands and began to rise up from the truck bed. As he did, you hear him ask, “What do you mean?”

Then he says, “This is my house. This is my house, dude.”

RED FLAGS. “Show me your hands!” is NOTa confusing or hard-to-understand command. However, “What do you mean?” is a ridiculous question. In fact, in this context it’s not a question at all. It’s a tool.

As we discuss in a number of Calibre Press courses, a blatantly dumb question is often used by a suspect to distract an officer and to buy time while he decides what his next move will be.

That “question” is followed by an irrelevant statement that has nothing to do with what the officer is asking the suspect to do. The officer didn’t ask the suspect whether the house next to the garage was his. He’s asking to see his hands. Again, a distraction and time-delay tool.

As the suspect begins to climb out of the bed of the truck and straddle the tailgate, the officer spots a gun in his right hand pressed against his thigh with the barrel pointed toward the ground.

The officer then yells, “Drop the fucking gun!!!” The suspect responds, “Nope.”

A second time: “Drop the fucking gun!!!” “Nope.”

WHAT DO WE HAVE? An armed, resistant suspect who has sexually assaulted a woman, stolen her car and fled from police making his intentions very clear. He is NOT going to drop his gun.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO? Believe what he’s saying.

Don’t wishfully think that by asking a few dozen more times he’ll change his mind. At that very moment, this armed suspect is very clear on his decision to retain his weapon and the officer is absolutely in a life-or-death situation. He knows it and he believes it, as his next actions will attest to.

After two ignored commands and about three seconds, the officer fires eight rounds at the suspect who then falls back into the truck bed.

Here’s where we see some unintentional but not uncommon contradiction in commands.

Seconds after the suspect falls into the truck bed, an officer in the background yells, “Do not move!” while the shooting officer radios that shots were fired.

Then…the shooting officer begins ordering the suspect to show him his hands while the responding officer in the background orders him not to move. They are issuing conflicting commands. Move! Don’t move! Move! Don’t move!

It’s worth going back and listening to the officers’ orders from 0:51 – 0:59. You’ll hear the conflict very clearly. Keep it in your memory.

After about 8 seconds, the officers appear to realize they’re issuing conflicting orders and end up swapping commands…but they’re still conflicting. Officer 1 now begins telling the suspect not to move and Officer 2 begins ordering him to show his hands.

This is important: We are NOT – repeat, not – judging these officers. Obviously, under the kind of extraordinary stress they were facing, issuing conflicting commands is completely understandable. The point is this sort of unintentional confliction can be deadly. We can learn from this.

THINK CLEARLY about what you’re asking a suspect to do, be ready to have him actually DO what you’re ordering and make SURE that if other officers are on the scene, your commands are syncing.

Practice this. Remind yourself and other officers of this. If Officer A orders a suspect not to move and he’s queued up to fire if he does, while at the same time Officer B is ordering the suspect to move by showing his hands, bad things can result.

LET’S GO BACK TO THE POINT OF SHOOTING. Did the suspect ever raise the gun toward the officer? No.

Did the officer need to wait until he did to shoot him? No.

How fast can that suspect raise his weapon from his thigh to being pointed at the officer? Literally lightning fast. Multiple studies have proven this. If that officer waited, chances are extremely high he could have been shot. It’s a simple fact and solid science.

Be sure you’re reading up on action/reaction times. There are plenty of articles out there that discuss this crucial topic. Knowing how fast a deadly threat can suddenly surface is critical to ensuring that your tactical decision making is informed and appropriate, whether you’re dealing with a man with a handgun pointed to his head…or a guy with his hands in his pockets…or a driver in a car you’ve just stopped…or a guy with a gun pinned against his thigh and pointed toward the ground.

DO NOT allow yourself to get behind the reactionary curve. That can be deadly.

Thoughts? Comments? Please e-mail us at: [email protected]

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Scott Buhrmaster

Scott Buhrmaster is the CEO of Calibre Press, one of the leading law enforcement training and information providers in the industry. Scott’s tenure began in 1989 when he originally signed on with Calibre where he was involved in the creation and marketing of the organization’s popular training courses and award-winning textbooks, videos and online publications. At core, he was involved with the overall enhancement and expansion of the organization and he proudly continues that work today.