Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Years ago I went through a shoot-don't shoot exercise in a primitive form of "virtual reality" simulator. I had a laser gun and stood before a life size movie screen in which scenarios were enacted in front of me. I confronted a bank robbery, a traffic stop gone bad, and a rape in progress. I felt that I would do just fine on the drill. After all, I was a prosecutor and I could recite the law on self defense almost verbatim.

In the bank robbery, the bad guys attacked me and I shot them without shooting any innocent bystanders. In the traffic stop, I was able to talk the irate driver into dropping his weapon and submitting to arrest. Then I found myself in a dark parking garage confronting a rapist who had a knife to his victim's throat. I drew my weapon and called on him to let the victim go. We stood frozen in time for what seemed like an hour, then the victim twisted around and broke free from her attacker.

I waited until the victim got out of the line of fire and then shot the rapist between the eyes. "Good shot!" I thought. Someone else was not impressed. The stage immediately went dark, and the referee informed me that I had just committed premeditated murder. If I had been thinking with the reasoning part of my brain, I would have realized that the rapist was threatening nobody when I shot him.

Even if you intellectually know what to do in a crisis, you may not do it when the adrenalin starts pumping and you begin to think with the primitive part of your brain. You may make a mistake and get yourself or somebody else killed unnecessarily. And the authorities who will be second guessing you may not see things your way. They will be a whole lot more likely to let you go home instead of putting you in jail if your first reaction is flight rather than fight.

Private citizens have no duty to confront the goblins in our society, but police officers do. This means that the police do not have a duty to retreat, they have a duty to stand their ground. The wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC, bears the names of many officers who gave their lives protecting the public by fulfilling the duty to stand their ground.

In Florida you, as a private citizen have a right to stand your ground outside your home. You also have a "right" to act irrationally. There is no wall honoring the myriads of people who died exercising their "right" to act irrationally. Most states impose a duty to retreat before using deadly force. I don't think of it as a duty, I think of it as a privilege. When confronted by danger, you can turn around and run--and spare not only your life, but the lives of your attacker and innocent bystanders.

A karate instructor whose name I forget (I'm doing that more often as I grow older) used to tell his pupils, "When threatened by another, walk away. If he follows you, run. If he chases you, run faster. If he catches you, kill him." I think I can word that last sentence a little better: "If he catches you, use sufficient force to neutralize the threat." It's not only the humane thing to do, it sounds better that way when you're testifying in court.