8 fundamentals to consider before using force

I’m a police officer. Naturally I have a vested interest in law enforcement and in things that deal with cops.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding in the public about what a police officer does. As such, I’ve tried to help inform others in my writing. For instance, I’ve written 7 things cops wished you knew.  I’ve written 10 reasons why police don’t aim for the legs. I’ve written about why we (citizens who aren’t cops) don’t shoot in the legs or arms.  I’ve written about why we (cops and civilians alike) are trained to shoot center mass.

The truth of the matter is that when getting tried by 12 rather than carried by six, case law mainly established by police officers’ actions are what many citizens will also be judged by. No, I’m not saying all citizens will be judged by the standards police officers are held to, but I am saying there are a lot of things that will apply to anybody when making the decision to use lethal force or not. Those things will undoubtedly be brought up years down the road when facing lethal battles, the second battle that stems from the first confrontation.

At any rate, when considering when to use lethal force police officers hold up the standard of the famous case Graham v. Connor.

These factors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. The severity of the crime(s) at issue;
  2. Whether the subject poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officer(s) or others;
  3. Whether the subject is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight;

(These three are the key fundamentals of Graham v. Conner, but it is important to consider what in legalese is called the “totality of circumstances,” therefore, here are a few other things to also consider.)

  1. The influence of drugs/alcohol or the mental capacity of the subject;
  2. The time available to an officer to make a decision;
  3. The availability of officers/resources to de-escalate the situation;
  4. The proximity or access of weapons to the subject; and
  5. The environmental factors and/or other exigent circumstances.

It seems like everyone wants to know when they can use force to protect themselves or another person. It’s important to know. Remember, “ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law.” If you carry or own a gun for self protection, you should be thinking about those things. You should know the answers with confidence. And you should definitely know that you will be judged on your knowledge and experience.

The answers, however, aren’t always easy.

It’s important to remember the tactical axiom, “Situation and terrain determine tactics,” however, there’s so much more to that statement than meets the eye and it all starts with the eight fundamentals of the decision to use force listed above.

You and I will be judged by “objective reasonableness,” a term coined from Graham v. Connor, and not by the previous standard of what shocks the conscience, (also something I’ve written about). You and I will be judged by the reasonable person standard, but remember, being judged by a jury of your peers doesn’t necessarily mean other people who think like you do. From anti-death penalty activists who sit in juror seats to PETA-loving lettuce eaters who oppose shooting animals, remember that you may not feel things are fair or right.

Nevertheless, I believe that if you consider the words of Gaius the jurist, the ancient Roman, when you think about whether or not to use lethal force, you will be fine. He said, “Natural reason permits us to defend ourselves against danger.”

Safety warning: Jeffrey Denning is a long time professional in the art of self-defense and any training methods or information he describes in his articles are intended to be put into practice only by serious shooters with proper training.  Please read, but do not attempt anything posted here without first seeking out proper training.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.