The Before and After of Using a Gun

by Keith Coniglio

As concealed-carriers, we tend to spend a good deal of time thinking about the gear and mindset that would get us through a violent confrontation as it unfolds. Gear, such as our firearms, our ammunition selection, our holsters and mode of carry, are all the things that make up the "during" of a defensive shooting. This forethought and contemplation is absolutely worthwhile, but it shouldn't preclude paying equal attention to both the "before" and "after."

The Before

Full disclosure: I am a Second Amendment purist. I believe that every American citizen with control of his or her faculties has a Constitutionally-protected right to be armed, in support of their natural right of self-defense. That being said, there is a difference between a right to be armed, and the ability to deliver effective, legally-justifiable defense.

After all, as observed by Colonel Jeff Cooper, "Owning a handgun doesn't make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician."

Have you ever received professional training on fighting with your daily carry gun? This doesn't mean attending a basic pistol class, or competitive matches, or regular range practice. It means instruction delivered by people who have analyzed and experienced real-world deadly force encounters.

It means learning skills such as situational awareness, de-escalation, and recognition of commonly used criminal tactics. In the wake of the recent homicidal rampage in a Texas church, it also means developing knowledge of things we might never have thought we'd need to know – how to engage an attacker wearing body armor; becoming proficient at one-handed shooting, both strong and weak handed; understanding the difference between cover and concealment; and how to effectively communicate with police without being mistaken for an active shooter.

Are you aware – really aware – of the nuances surrounding your locality's laws on self-defense and concealed carry? Do you have a "duty to retreat?" Are you justified in using deadly force only when facing the same, or does it include cases of unarmed battery or rape? What if you stumble upon such a crime happening to another person – is "defense of others" still considered justified?

If you confront someone breaking into your car and are forced to draw your gun, are you now legally considered the aggressor? If you are forced to fire your gun and a ricochet or errant round strikes an innocent, what is your liability?

Researching and buying new gear is always easier (and therefore more appealing) than spending time and money on education, but the knowledge gleaned from advanced courses at facilities such as Thunder Ranch or a detailed conversation with your local District Attorney may do far more for your long-term protection than anything you can carry in a holster.

The After

Being armed, competent, and aware of our legal constraints puts us in a highly advantageous position to survive a violent attack. However, our goal shouldn't be to "survive," but rather to keep the ordeal from impacting our daily lives more than necessary. Planning and preparing shouldn't end at the fight itself, but should extend beyond the ordeal.

The aftermath of a defensive shooting is just as dangerous as the assault itself, albeit for different reasons. The most "justifiable shoot" can turn into a legal nightmare with a single wrong word.

A District Attorney seeking to make a name may hold a far different view of your actions than the responding officers who call you "hero" at the scene. Statements provided to media (or simply made in their presence) can easily be spun into a reputation-ruining sound bite for the evening news.

Do you know a reputable attorney you could call in the event of your detention or arrest? For that matter, would you know at what point to call them? Would you, in the adrenaline crash of the moment, have the wherewithal to navigate the legal and media minefield? How much of a legal fight would you be able to put up if you were charged with a crime, or even sued by your attacker or their estate? Would any of it be covered by your personal liability insurance? Could you replace your income if your employer terminated you over an arrest, or even because of your use of deadly force?

On a more personal level, the emotional impact of surviving a deadly attack – including the possibility of having taken a life – should not be ignored or taken lightly. Do you know reputable counselors with experience in dealing with post-traumatic stress? Do you have a support network you can turn to, familiar with the psychological and physical manifestations that often follow such events? How would you deal with being shunned by friends and even family, uncomfortable with the proximity to real-world violence?

The time to begin researching attorneys and the limitations of your personal policies is not when responding officers have you proned out on the ground. Neither should you wait until you are already struggling with a traumatic experience to screen qualified counselors. Begin looking into these details now, rather than when a poor choice could have life-altering consequences.

[Author's note:  Second Call Defense, host of this blog, was established specifically to address these "after" issues. Even if you have well-qualified resources at your disposal, I would highly recommend reviewing their offerings.]

As I have written before, the vast majority of us will – thankfully – go through our lives never needing our defensive firearms. Unfortunately, though, we have no way of knowing whether we will be in that majority or if we will be among the unfortunate outliers. There is truth in the adage, "Failing to plan means planning to fail." Make sure your personal planning takes into account the events that occur before and after a confrontation.

Keith Coniglio is a father, software tester, NRA-certified pistol instructor, and devoted Second Amendment advocate. He is also the editor-in-chief of Descendants of Liberty Press, a site dedicated to rekindling Americans' passion for - and defense of - their Constitutional rights and personal liberty.