I should start off by saying that I’m not an attorney or a self-defense expert. I’m a journalist who covers politics and the gun-control debate, so veering off into the realm of self-defense in an analytical capacity is a bit unfamiliar to me even though I have covered seminal incidents like the Trayvon Martin shooting in Sanford, Florida, rather extensively for Guns.com.
Yet, despite my lack professional knowledge and experience on the subject, I’m going to do my best to break down a video I recently watched on Youtube that depicts a fight between two men, a man in a black shirt and a man in a green shirt, at what appears to be a Quick Trip gas station in Arizona.
No firearms appear in the video, neither man appears to be packing, but the way in which the fight unfolds contains at least five ‘teachable moments’ for both those who carry a firearm for self-defense outside the home and those who do not. In short, we can all learn something from watching this altercation:
1. Over what?
Like most fights, this one was totally avoidable. What were these two men or, if you count the guy in the green shirt’s buddy (we’ll call him orange shirt) three men squabbling about?
According to the “dirkyboy,” the Youtube user who posted the video, “I am not entirely sure what the argument was over. But as I was leaving QT I heard something to the effect that the white guys almost hit the black guy as he was crossing the street.”
Okay, supposing that’s true, an apology was in order. Maybe one was given by green shirt and orange shirt and maybe one wasn’t. Regardless, black shirt should have let it go. Likewise, any of the ire spewing forth from black shirt should have been ignored by green shirt, orange shirt.
In most cases, I think even if you’re right, the best thing to do is apologize and walk away. “Hey, I’m really sorry about that. I didn’t see you there.” This especially holds true if you’re carrying a firearm. Apologize and walk away. Avoid confrontations at all costs.
Black shirt was at a distinct disadvantage. Not only did green shirt weigh more than he did, he was alone. It was two against one.
Sure, orange shirt didn’t jump in, probably because he didn’t need to. But one wonders what might have happened if the roles were reversed and black shirt was pummeling green shirt. Would orange shirt just sit there and watch that happen? Probably not.
Being outmanned, like being outgunned, is even more of an incentive to resolve the situation peacefully. Swallow your pride and walk away in one piece.
Instead, black shirt opts to go toe-to-toe with green shirt. Bad move.
3. What does the law say?
As citizens, one should know the law in one’s respective state, county, city, etc. As gun owners, one is obligated to know the law in one’s respective state, county, city, etc., specifically as it relates to self-defense.
Under Arizona law, “a person is justified in threatening or using physical force against another when and to the extent a reasonable person would believe that physical force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful physical force.”
There are several exceptions to this rule such as when one uses physical force in response to “verbal provocation alone” or when one is being duly apprehended by police. Additionally, physical force is not justified if the person who provoked the fight “withdraws from the encounter or communicates his intent do to so.” If the person who was initially attacked continues to attack after that person withdraws or gives up, then that person’s physical force is no longer justified.
To quickly break this down, black shirt was not justified in using physical force against green shirt. However, because he was attacked, green shirt’s use of force against black shirt was justified.
Black shirt man’s use of force was unlawful. Green shirt man’s retaliation was lawful… arguably, and this is where it gets dicey, up until black shirt was on the ground and there was a clear disparity of force.
Disparity or force, as self-defense expert Masaad Ayoob has explained, occurs when there is a discernible disadvantage. For instance, when one is on the ground, a punch to the face is not like a punch to the face as if one were standing, it’s the weight of the man’s body, plus the force generated by his fist striking the head into the ground. There’s no way for the man on the bottom to slip or dodge or roll with the punch.
Black shirt had no where to go. At the point where he’s getting smashed in the head, there was a disparity of force and he was at risk of great bodily harm and death. Lucky for him, it didn’t break that way.
4. During the fight, under what circumstance would lethal force have been justified?
Given what I just laid out, one can argue that even though he provoked the physical altercation, black shirt would have been justified pulling out a firearm and shooting green shirt when he was being pummeled on the ground.
Sure, one can argue that green shirt had as much of a right to punch until the threat is eliminated, but the video indicates that not only did green shirt punch out black shirt, but he went beyond that point. Black shirt was out cold and green shirt continued to strike. It would appear that those punches were excessive and perhaps unlawful.
Note the bystander that yells to green shirt that black shirt has had enough.
Of course, there’s also the question of what a reasonable person would do under those circumstances, which is at the end of the day how a jury is instructed to interpret the law.
5. What is reasonable?
Well, it’s certainly reasonable for green shirt to fight back against black shirt’s initial assault. During the fight, one can argue that it was also reasonable for green shirt to punch black shirt up until the point that black shirt was defenseless, unable to respond, no longer a threat.
One can also reasonably argue that had black shirt been armed, it would have been reasonable for him to shoot and kill green shirt because of the disparity of force that developed near the end of the fight. With his face toward the ground, black shirt was in deep trouble, any of those last blows could have been fatal. Again, lucky for him, there were bystanders and onlookers to tell green shirt that black shirt was done.
I don’t know the legal outcome of the fight or the individuals involved. Reportedly, black shirt has filed a lawsuit against green shirt, but it’s difficult to tell whether that’s a real lawsuit or just Internet rumor.
Fights are often messy and there’s a complexity to them that our legal system fails to fully account for. Unavoidable, there are gray areas. Sometimes the bad guys win, sometimes the good guys win. There’s really no way to know how things will play out, which is all the more reason to not get involved in them in the first place. Of course, be prepared for the worst. But also, more often than not, be prepared to simply apologize and walk away.