When the Smoke Clears: What Do You Do After a Self-Defense Shooting

It is a given that anyone that carries a firearm for defensive use believes that at some point they may be called to employ that firearm in a lethal force situation.  However, while there are many classes, books, articles, and videos that cover what to do in the seconds leading up to and during a shooting, there is very little published work on what to do in the seconds immediately after a shooting.

Just like the Weaver vs. Isosceles, Revolver vs. Semi-auto, Steel vs. Polymer debates there are two main schools of thought for post shooting behavior.  The first and probably the most discussed is the “Plead the 5th” model.  “You’re the victim, cooperate with the police” strategy seems to come in second.  Being the contrary type, I disagree with the basic premise that either model (or any camp of the above debates for that matter) is the 100% best thing in all circumstances. 

If you have ever watched a crime show, news report, or a press release from a politician what can you not help but think when you hear the words “My lawyer has advised me not to comment”?  If you are anything like me you probably translate that into “He’s guilty as sin”.  Constitutional issues aside, asserting your rights as soon as the officer approaches and demanding a lawyer before answering any questions may not be the best strategic response.

The other side states that as a law abiding citizen it is your duty to answer the officer’s questions and help him with the investigation.  After all, you don’t have anything to hide, as your actions were consistent with the law, as you understand it.  The problem with this is that while the stress response is not fully understood, it is clear that there are definite brain chemistry changes that occur in response to life threatening events, and that it takes multiple sleep cycles to fully “wash out” the fight or flight hormones from your brain so you can begin to recover your long term memory of the event.  This means that on the scene you can tell the officer exactly what happened, but through a process called cognitive dissidence, what you believe happened may not have occurred.  Later when you realize that you misremembered on the scene, the officer may ask you “were you lying then, or are you lying now?”  That’s when you kick yourself and wish you had “Plead the Fifth.”

I prefer to take the logic behind both models and meld them to something that does not subconsciously remind the officer of a criminal dodging his questions while still protecting me as an individual. 

I created the acronym ReCASA (because I want to go back home, and not to jail) to help me to remember the steps in a time of extreme stress.

The steps are as follows:

Reholster – Always holster reluctantly.  Don’t be so quick to reholster that you fail to assess the situation for additional threats.  You don’t however want to be standing in the street with a gun in your hand when the cops arrive….

Call the police – You’re the victim, victims call the police….  They are going to be getting 911 calls; you want yours to be one of the first.  Make sure that you identify yourself as the victim, and that you want to press charges against your attacker.

Aid the injured – Check yourself for injuries, you may be hurt and not know it.  Next check innocent bystander.  Consider rendering aid to your attacker, if possible to do so safely.  It’s harder for an lawyer to make the argument that you carry a gun because you want to shoot someone if you give CPR to the thug that just tried to kill you.

Secure the scene – Make sure that nothing is taken from the scene that will be needed to reconstruct the events.  If your attacker had a knife, then police will need that knife.  It has happened before; bystanders may alter or steal evidence to help their friends and loved ones.

Ambulance – The flight or flight response can cause dramatic physiological changes to your body.  It alters your brain chemistry, size of blood vessels, heart and breathing rates.  As soon as the police arrive, identify yourself as the victim; give a brief statement concerning essential elements such as – who attacked you, and why your life was in danger.  Then because of the possible health effects, ask to be seen by your physician and to notify your emergency contact.  Tell the officer you fully intend to cooperate (especially since you’re the victim), but first you want any health issues stemming from your attack dealt with.  This is a reasonable request from a crime victim.  If your request is not respected and the officer insists on more questions before you have seen a doctor, it seems to me that asserting your civil rights and demanding a lawyer be present would not be out of the question, nor would it make you look guilty if done courteously and in the above manner.

I am not a lawyer, and more importantly, I am not you.  If you carry a handgun for personal protection, then you owe it to yourself to think of what you should do if you are in a shooting.  Speak to a professional, research the ideas, and decide for yourself.  One thing is certain, if you ever need a post shooting behavior model, determining one in advance is better than deciding on one while sorting out the emotional, legal, and physical details at the scene of a shooting.