Conflict Avoidance: Practicing What I Preach

law enforcement

Letting law enforcement deal with violations of law whenever possible is a fundamental principle of conflict avoidance. Photo: author

Avoiding conflict should be everyone’s preference … but if you carry a gun, it also becomes your responsibility. Readers familiar with Personal Defense Network should be familiar with my thoughts on the idea of “should vs could” when it comes to taking action with a defensive firearm. A myriad of laws and beliefs on this topic exist around the U.S. Most of them revolve around people asking what they “can” do in regard to the letter of the law, questions like, “When can I shoot someone?” or “When am I allowed to use my gun?” Answers often include phrases such as “stand your ground,” “castle doctrine,” or “duty to retreat.”

If you speak with someone educated on the concept of self-defense law, you may hear about case law, legal precedent, grand juries, district attorneys, and evidence of a crime. Regularly, those with training will talk about the holy trinity: motive, opportunity, and means. Did the person want to hurt you? Did they have the opportunity to hurt you? Did they have the means by which to hurt you? Texas, Massachusetts, the Tueller Drill, the number of people one might prefer to be judged by (as opposed to the number they’d be carried by), how many tales a dead man tells, and God sorting it out might also come up, though not helpfully … ever.

When I think about the government giving me “permission” to shoot someone, my almost immediate follow-up thought is, “I don’t really care about that.” I should now say the following: I am not a lawyer and this article should not be considered legal advice.

AND NOW, A STORY

My wife owns a house that has been vacant for a couple of months … and we had armed intruders inside it about a week ago. Long story short, it was supposed to have changed hands back in July, a couple of weeks after a friend of hers moved out. That got delayed a month, and then another month. We spent most of August traveling, and some would-be squatters moved in. Thankfully, she noticed them on the porch. She could very easily have walked in on them, but they happened to be outside. She brought them to my attention and, as instantly as Warrior Expert Theory allows, I made a decision: “Call the police.”

Now, I’m here with a fair amount of training and a decent amount of confidence in my ability. I’m legally carrying a gun with over 14 rounds of quality ammunition, and a spare magazine of 16 is within reach. There’s an AR locked in a vault and a vest with front plate installed next to it. My truck is covered in logos from firearms industry companies and it’s wrapped in A-TACS camouflage. Unauthorized people are inside a home owned by my wife … by extension, my property. They are also of a different race than I am. According to the Anti-Gunners, I should have rolled out, kitted up, and made entry, right? Bonus, I would’ve been well within my legal rights to do so at the time. Where would they ever get that idea? Well, the truth is that if you pay attention to any firearms forum or social media chatter, it won’t take you long to get the same idea. Honestly, it’s a reasonable conclusion for Anti-Gunners to push and for those ignorant on the subject without much invested in the “gun debate” to believe. Still, I chose to avoid conflict.

Four patrol vehicles with five officers showed up over the next five to 10 minutes. The first two approached the home, made contact with the intruders, asked them a few questions, found out warrants were out on them, and heard inconsistent stories about their right to be in the home. Within 15 minutes of the initial call, two people were in custody and being driven away from the property in separate cars. No violence whatsoever and no immediate danger for me or anyone in my family. This is the best possible outcome I could think of, beyond some kind of really awkward, and highly unlikely, misunderstanding between us and our former tenant or the future owner.

Why would anyone even consider approaching the home or engaging the unauthorized occupiers, given the circumstances as they were? Our kids were all accounted for and we didn’t know anyone who was supposed to be in the home. As far as we knew, the people didn’t know us, see us, or know that we were connected with the house as we drove by. There was no reason to believe there was an immediate threat to us or anyone else. And, not that it should matter, but very little of value to us was in the home. There was, to my mind, no objectively compelling reason to put myself at risk to find out what was going on firsthand.

holster handgun

It’s almost always better to keep your defensive gun in your holster, if you can. Photo: author

PRACTICING WHAT I PREACH

This example, my most recent opportunity to “practice what I preach” in any significant way, epitomizes the most important reason I talk so much about the “should vs could” issue. In the moment, the law isn’t really the issue. The driving factor is far more likely to be your perception of the need to act, heavily influenced by your prior training and thoughts on the topic of when you should use defensive force. This certainly isn’t to say that knowing and following the law aren’t important. Of course, they are … but when it comes to actual defensive moments, they play a much greater role in what leads up to the emergency than they do during it.

The law and the advice of your lawyer are your guides to behavior in all aspects of owning guns, storing guns, carrying guns, defensive firearms training, your strategy, and your tactics leading up to the event. Don’t own, store, or carry guns illegally. Don’t train to shoot under circumstances that you know to be illegal. Don’t plan to utilize a strategy or build your plan around tactics you believe to be in violation of law. If you live in a place that gives you a legal “duty to retreat,” don’t set up a home-defense plan that involves giving yourself a minor leg wound so you can stay put and use your gun to shoot the bad guy when running out the back door and avoiding conflict would be options (Ridiculous, right? But I’ve heard at least two people suggest it.).

Set up a plan and live a life that is within the rules as you understand them. That’s how reasonable people behave in a civilized society ruled by law. If you don’t like the laws, work to have them changed. My advice to people making armed home defense plans absolutely involves escape from a perceived lethal threat, if you can do so without knowingly putting yourself (or your family) in greater danger. Be as many corners and/or doors away from where you think the bad guy is as possible, and leave if you can.

DECISION MAKING

Castle doctrine may say you don’t need to move one inch away from the attacker if they enter your property and present a threat, but that doesn’t mean you can’t if it makes more sense. Sitting here reading this, you (hopefully) think that sounds smart and logical and build that way of thinking into your plan. Or you may think you’ll wait until the moment occurs and mentally create some kind of Venn Diagram in your head with circles for every law, rule, guideline, advice you’ve heard, and a few choice clichés from your favorite internet forum, and then come to the best tactical decision you can so you prevail. In the event you shoot someone, this means justice has been served, good has triumphed, evil has been punished, and the pro-gun population has one more tick on the statistic sheet for successful defensive gun use.

But in the moment when you have to make a decision, you should make it to keep yourself and those you care about as safe as possible, given your understanding of the circumstances. Those circumstances include the laws governing the use of force wherever you happen to be at the moment, but you shouldn’t believe they will be the top priority in the most emergent moments. If you believe you need to defend yourself, you should. If you don’t perceive that need at that moment, you shouldn’t.

For me, it really is that simple. I’m not going to go charging into potential harm’s way to defend a vacant home and an old piano (or any other property). I’m not going to exercise my right to enter a home I know to have potential threats just because I have been offended morally. I’m not going to become a vigilante and seek justice for any laws I believe are being broken. I’m not even going to invoke a “citizen’s arrest” and try to keep people from escaping a police response if I don’t believe that escape would put others I care about in immediate harm.

KEEPING IT ALL IN CONTEXT

As a personal defense educator, it would be disingenuous if my advice to others didn’t show up in my own behavior when it was contextually appropriate. The reverse is also true: The advice I give should be similar to what I would imagine myself wanting to do under similar circumstances, including having similar gear and level of training as the student in question. An appropriate guideline in the moment could be expressed as a teacher’s version of the Reasonable Man Doctrine:

What would I advise a similarly trained and equipped person, knowing what I know right now of the circumstances, to do in this situation?

This question should answer the question of what to plan to do for everyone, really. Take your ego out of it. Take away any bias you might have about how you are a special case. Plan ahead of time and train realistically (including visualization) so you have a higher probability of executing the plan you made in a sober moment when the emotions are high and adrenaline is flowing.

Don’t think for a second there weren’t anger and anxiousness last week when I realized we had intruders and my family could have been in danger or our property at risk. There were, but my training kicked in without any regard whatsoever for the relevant laws at that moment or my feelings about the situation. Too many people find ways to rationalize poor decisions. Putting yourself at risk when you don’t need to usually falls into that category. Only being willing to sacrifice yourself for someone you care about, obligation incurred by duty you agreed to take on, and a very few other factors trump this most basic personal defense principle: Avoid putting yourself in more danger when you can. When you choose to carry a gun, you have an even greater responsibility to think about any way you can avoid conflict that might lead to your needing to use it.

In the future, when you think about the use of lethal force, don’t just think about whether someone else says you can use lethal force. Think about whether or not you really should. Plan for a successful defensive brain use that is a positive tick mark for the entire pro-human population. And if you are as worried about convincing more citizens who vote that responsible gun ownership makes the world safer, consider how you talk about these issues in public as well.

Thanks to the responding officers of the Denver Police Department for taking care of the situation quickly, efficiently, and professionally.

Discussion
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56 Responses to “Conflict Avoidance: Practicing What I Preach”
  1. Joe K

    Money quote right here:

    “When you choose to carry a gun, you have an even greater responsibility to think about any way you can avoid conflict that might lead to your needing to use it.”

    Glad everything worked out and thanks for sharing this.

    Joe K.

    Reply
  2. Tod W.

    You could not not have said it any better. Lethal force always changes your life for ever. If your family or another human life is not threatened, why inflict that forever life changing event upon yourself and family over an inanimate object?

    Reply
    • Pat

      “The Cornered Cat” by Kathy Jackson has become my handbook since receiving my permit…you are right on target, respond as a cornered cat, when there is a safe exit, take it…if not pull out the claws!!!

      Reply
  3. NEIL TEEGARDEN

    I’m a federal LEO and I would have called for the local PD just as you did. Whenever possible, let uniformed officers handle the problem. Macho has no place when it comes to personal and family safety.

    Reply
  4. Mike Murray

    Written, thought, and acted out like the professional you are. I have fire extinguishers and seat belts too, but I damn sure don’t want to use them.

    Reply
  5. Mario Elia

    It makes so much sense to AVOID the conflict if at all possible, without putting yourself or loved ones in more danger, than to engage and spend years of legal entanglements. Nothing is better than not having to use a weapon, and using one’s brain, and reason instead.

    Reply
  6. Steve K

    Great article and very timely…this evening I called the police after a young man walk on to my property and attempted to destroy and kicked down a campaign sign in my front yard which that supports a particular presidential candidate that has been very out spoke against the current president and his administration. Thanks and I agree! Let the authorities take care of it if at all possible!

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  7. George P

    You are so right on. I hear way too many people take about using deadly force because it is their right, duty, or whatever. In these times of Gun Grabbing fear mongers, any legally armed citizen that makes a bad decision in using a gun will be used to further their agenda. The burden of responsibility placed on responsibly armed citizens is greater now than any time in our history. You are a beacon of prudence and common sense in a world that seems to have gone mad. God bless and thank you!

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  8. Bill B.

    “Take your ego out of it.” ” Avoid putting yourself in more danger when you can. When you choose to carry a gun, you have an even greater responsibility to think about any way you can avoid conflict that might lead to your needing to use it.” Wow – those statements should be part of the CCW/CFP creed. Really well said.

    Reply
  9. John Alfano

    That was the smartest move to call police you had no conflict and did not subject you or your wife in any danger besides you had no knowledge as to exactly how many were in the house and how they would react it was better to wait minutes for police than spend hours giving testimony in police station .

    Reply
  10. Martin L

    Perfect response to an incident we are seeing more and more often. Over the course of the last 2 years I have responded to suspicious person calls in “vacant” or abandoned buildings more than I can count. You did everything in the best manner possible and I really like that you set the example by practicing what you preach. At the end of the day the goal should be for everyone in the family or circle of friends you are with to go home without injury and for the “bad” guys to go to jail. When I am off duty I am always armed. I learned many years ago to be the best professional observer possible when there is no direct threat to people nearby. I am prepared to step in actively if required but if there is no direct threat at the moment, it is much better to be the best witness possible. Well done!

    Reply
  11. Frank H.

    I agree with what you’re saying. I’ve always believed that avoiding a potential threat is the best way to go. The best gunfight is the one that didn’t happen.Lethal force should be a last resort, ultimately yours and your family’s safety is top priority. Whenever possible, avoid the danger. Something to remember, just because you carry a gun, you should never put yourself in a situation you wouldn’t be in without a gun.

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  12. matt lesser

    If you can get away or stop the fight perhaps if you have a laser on your gun it gives you another option.

    Reply
  13. JR

    Excellent well-explicated argument.
    I don’t know who said it first, but it expands on the first rule of a fight – don’t be there.
    JR

    Reply
  14. eb

    Great, well written article

    my only concern (personally) is when the time factor to decision making is compressed would my thought process if finding a ‘conflict avoidance’ scenario potentially risk my or my loved ones lives?

    Reply
  15. Bill Creech

    As a retired police chief with over 40 years experience I totally agree. Your first concern is to the welfare of your family and yourself. Forget being a hero – be alive and healthy. If you’ve never shot or killed anyone, you don’t want to have to. That’s something you will live with the rest of your life. Good article and excellent advice.

    Reply
  16. Scott Puckett

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Mr. Pincus. The police are usually well trained, and in a situation like the one you spoke of, they usually come in sufficient numbers to handle the situation. Call 911 and be a good witness/complainant.

    Reply
  17. Dave

    There was a case in Florida some years ago of some young relatives(sons & friends I think)going down from another state to stay in the family’s FL home.It was not occupied permanently,used for occasional use by the family.When the group arrived, there were some squatters occupying the house. They engaged, then I think called the Police, & got the group removed. The next night some of the squatters returned, beating to death some of the legitimate occupiers.So since they confronted the squatters at first, they were known to the bad guys.It was the “right” of the family to be in their house. So much for that.

    Reply
  18. Clayton C.

    Excellent article, Rob! Just because a situation gives one the right to act doesn’t mean they should given any number of factors present at the time of the event. Situational Awareness will keep you out of harms way more times than not; even when you are around your own home.

    Reply
  19. Ralph

    Thank you for a great article! I believe you did the absolute right thing!! I have a license to carry but will only use my rights as a last resort!! I hope all responsible guns owners feel that way!! Thanks for the good example!!

    Reply
  20. Lee Wilson

    “Things” can be replaced. A human life cannot. Deadly force should only be used when there are no other options.

    Reply
  21. Mike Baker

    Your decision was absolutely the correct one. You or your family were not in imminent danger. If you had come upon these folks without knowing they were there and you were threatened without being able to escape, then it’s a different story. Defend yourself or family, but when you can avoid a potentially deadly situation, do so.

    Reply
  22. John Decker

    Something you didn’t mention……….had you gone Rambo on your intruders and killed /injured someone, a court of law might have justified your actions. However, in civil court, the results could be VERY different. Legal costs and a bad decision could have very well cost you the house you were trying to protect. That may not be right, but it’s the way the law works any more. Everybody, including the perpetrator, is a victim, but you pay!

    Reply
  23. Jim Jacobs

    So, you live in Denver???? Never would have guessed that. I live in Bailey. Do you do seminars in Denver??? or ??? Our Colorado cops are the best. I live in Park County and for a small force with the largest county in Colorado to cover they do one heck of a job. Where is the gun range you do your videos? Being in Park County I have all kinds of places to shoot. Like my back yard. I have a CC and wear a Cross Breed for my 45ACP IWB and a Swap Rig for my 40 when I carry OTW. I am old school ( Vietnam vet) so I carry heavy pistols. My 40 is a Ruger compact. But the 45 is a stainless Colt, “heavy” Which I am real familiar with. You do a real good job and keep up the good work. Thank you, Jim

    Reply
  24. Bob M.

    Your article showed great insight. Too many people assume that those who own and/or carry guns want to use them as a first line of defense. This is usually not the case as your article shows.

    Reply
  25. Jerry B

    Thank you Rob. You presented an excellent review of the circumstance, your reasoning and actions. Training is essential to avoid really bad decision making in moments of high stress. Your to-the-point summary highlighted a number of vital points, for me, anyway. Thanks very much

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  26. Sean

    Thanks for this one Rob. As a retired long term LEO, I appreciate the “could versus should” especially. Yes, I “could” stick my nose into a lot of things…but now that I am retired and no longer empowered…I don’t believe that I “should” is another allegory that I have used when confronted with the hypotheticals I am often asked. Thanks for getting this out there on a larger stage.

    Be safe.

    Reply
  27. Todd

    Thank you for sharing the story, and once again as so many responsible Armed Citizen do, use the greatest weapon we have, the one between our ears. When one can safely do so, no matter what the “law” allows, avoid conflict.

    Reply
  28. Eric Forsman

    I absolutely agree 100%. For years the training I have provided was in the light that the students were essentially assuming the role of a VIP close protection bodyguard,, their VIP clients being themselves and their family/friends. As such, their prime directive is to keep those clients safe from ALL danger, which means that engagement is only viable when there is no other course of action. It is their responsibility to avoid all forms of threats/danger; deter/de-escalate those threats that cannot be avoided, disengage/escape/evade those threats that cannot be deterred, and as a last resort engage the threat with whatever force is reasonable, available, and necessary to stop the threat.

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  29. E

    I had to make a very quick decision after I saw three guys run up toward my home from their parked car. This happened around 11:30am when all seemed calm and peaceful. One guy knocked, then went back to his car, and after a few minutes three guys came out of that car. I was already on the phone with a deputy describing the car and one of the guys before all three suddenly ran out of their car to our house. My mother couldn’t even dial the phone after I shouted to the deputy that there were 3 guys, not one. I then had to grab my shotgun and go downstairs to defend my partially disabled mother and myself from the criminals, one of whom had green gloves. That’s what really scared me. I then went downstairs to put myself in a tactical position and that’s when I saw the guy with the green gloves approaching my home’s rear French doors. He had jumped one of our gates to get to the back. As soon as I turned my head in the other direction to check if the other guys were anticipating breaking in, the guy with the green gloves was gone within about 2 seconds. I then saw the car taking off and reported it to the deputy as I was still on speaker phone on my iPhone throughout this entire ordeal. One sheriff car finally arrived but about 2 minutes or more later after the criminals left. We later found out there were 4 guys, not 3. In the end, nobody was hurt and no shots were fired. All it took to end this situation was simply brandishing my shotgun in a tactical position. The house behind me was broken into a month prior to this incident, and a home across my street was also broken into last week. The owners were home at that time around 11:30pm. Then another potential incident occurred in the early morning hours today where 5 sheriff cars were parked on the corner of my street right in front of my house. This is the lowest crime area in my city and even described as Leave-It-to-Beaver neighborhood. Unfortunately, things are changing and forced entries are becoming the norm in even the safest and best of neighborhoods. A good point to remember: if at all possible, dial LE directly not 911 to minimize wasting valuable time.

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  30. Paladin

    Many years ago, when I first began working armed protection details, one of my supervisors, who was a retired OPD lieutenant, gave me a similar piece of advice. We sometimes worked in sketchy areas, where heightened awareness was not only necessary, but critical, yet he advised me that, “drawing your weapon when you or someone else is not in IMMEDIATE danger, can possibly MAKE something happen that wouldn’t have had you shown restraint, and not in your favor.

    I didn’t immediately agree with his observation, but, with time, I found it to be sage advice in several situations that could have gone pear shaped. Your “money quote” as @Joe K put it, that is, “When you choose to carry a gun, you have an even greater responsibility to think about any way you can avoid conflict that might lead to your needing to use it, has more or less been my mantra, especially when someone, (not knowing you are armed) is pushing your buttons or behaving in a way that requires attention. Sometimes discretion, and or restraint, can be the greater form of valor. Sadly, not always, but indeed sometimes.

    Again, great commentary, glad it all turned out OK, and, thanks for reminding all of us who choose to go armed of the huge responsibility we have in doing so.

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  31. JR

    In South Africa we have a reasonable Firearms Control Act governing the ownership and use of firearms. Reasonable but by no means perfect.
    Your article was excellent and right on the money. It should be prescribed reading for anyone contemplating owning and using a firearm.

    Reply
  32. Jim B

    What a great response on your part. A scenario the people rarely consider is where a third party has fraudulently leased you vacant property. The squatters may even have what they believe to be a legitimate rental contract. If the armed owner just opens the door they may be met with what the squatter believes is an appropriate response and under the prudent man standard may be cleared in court for actually shooting the true owner of the property.

    Reply
  33. Edmund Ludde

    The best “common sense” article I have read in a long time. One MUST be familiar with local laws. Being a “snowbird” I am aware that NYS law is different than Florida and plan accordingly. Again, great article!

    Reply
  34. Scott Mc

    Thank you for the great piece! If the anti-gun folks only knew how reluctant responsible CCW’s were to “just engage.” Learned a lot from you on Best Defense episodes and always admired your completely non-macho/tough guy approach and intelligence-based teaching style.

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  35. Ronnie Bradford

    Well the protection of yourself or love ones are someone being attached with great causion as the only way stop the person who is attaching or enter your home would give just cause to shoot someone to stop them , you still could end up in prison!!!

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  36. scott puckett

    Mr. Pincus, I couldn’t agree more with the way you handled your situation. Why put yourself in a situation that could lead to injury or death to you or yours when calling the police is usually much safer. Take care and God bless.

    Reply
  37. Matt Szady

    Wait?…you live in Denver? So very many times over the years I’ve witnessed countless people, including/especially cops, get into trouble by rushing in. At the academy over 30 years ago they told us never never go in alone. Unless you have to. But there are techniques we can use to slow things down and gain a tactical advantage. But that doesnt prove your manhood or show to the boys you dont need back-up, you can handle this. Sometimes the most dangerous person on the scene is us. And thats how it should be but in a good way.

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  38. jonathan.kelsey

    Great article with much wisdom and extremely good advice. I feel a tremendous responsibility in carrying a gun and those of us who do so, must continually train, have a measure of wisdom and common sense to help us avoid conflict.

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  39. Dan

    Very good points made here. And rarely voiced. As a fairly recent (past few years) firearms owner, (I carried small arms in my Navy days, but that was long ago) , and concealed carrier, I found this very useful advice!

    Reply
  40. Rick Liebespach

    You did the right thing (as if you didn’t know that already). I am confident that in Florida (where I am), you would not have been in the right to go, get armed, come back and “take care of business”. I believe that would have been viewed as substantially the same as entering a neighbors house, if you saw it broken into while they were not home.

    Reply