A Remarkable Defensive Gun Non-Use

Crazy man with knife

Crazy man with knife (file photo).

You don’t expect a 2nd Lieutenant to demonstrate much beyond potential. But this 2nd Lt. in the West Virginia Air National Guard is already a veteran of the Marines and a husband and father experienced in the world. He recently was in a local Walmart when a woman began screaming for help. A man was holding a knife to her neck.

Police eventually responded to the scene and put the suspect in handcuffs. Nelson said he later discovered that the woman he was threatening was his own mother. He turned the knife on his mom when she refused to buy him a gun, according to a copy of the police report obtained by TheBlaze.

Nelson and his wife both carry everywhere they can, legally, to protect themselves and their family. In this case, Nelson protected two strangers — the threatened woman and her disturbed son.

Nelson, remarkably, resolved the situation by only displaying his firearm without drawing it, and using his maturity and command presence — yeah, a 2nd john’s command presence — to talk the angry man down. He talked him into letting his mother go. Then he talked him into stopping threatening himself, which was what he did after releasing his mom. Then he talked him into putting the knife down. Finally, he talked him out of running away, and into sitting down and waiting for  the cops.

It was a bravura performance — and the firearm never left the holster, although it seems to have contributed greatly to Nelson’s command of the situation.

Nelson had nothing but good things to say about the way officers with the Del Rio Police Department handled the situation. He said the officers commended him for his handling of the situation — and because he never brandished or fired his weapon, officers said “no thanks” when he asked if they wanted to see his legal concealed carry permit.

Would a lot more stand-offs end like this, instead of the usual shooting, if they were met by armed, calm citizens rather than a police Steroids Weapons And Tantrum squad call-out? Hard to say. Every threatener is different, and so is every threat. Cops talk a lot of suspects into giving up and laying down weapons every day, and those cases seldom make the papers. Nelson might have wound up shooting the guy. And in some jurisdictions, cops and a district attorney would have jumped at the chance to “nail” Nelson. Fortunately, West Virginia is not New Jersey, so he didn’t get the Brian Aitken treatment.

“The number one reason I carry is to protect my family. It’s a God-given, constitutional right that I fully, 100 percent stand behind,” Nelson told TheBlaze. “Secondly, I love my fellow Americans, and if I’m in a position to help one of them, obviously, I want to do that.”

“I immediately felt responsible for that lady’s life,” he added. “If I’m in a position to help someone and I don’t, I would feel just as bad as the guy who does wrong.”

Apparently this guy is in flight training, heading for the ranks of pilots, which is where the Air Force tends to find its leaders. They’re lucky to have such a sensible and mature fellow. He’s also a delegate in the WV legislature, which seems like another good place to have a sensible and mature man.

What is bothersome, he explained, is the fact that there are tons of stories about responsible armed citizens that never get reported by most of the media. He may have a point — this incident has barely been reported and it occurred back in April.

“They never let us tell our side of the story,” Nelson said. “We hope that some good can come out of our story and let people know what is really going on.”

via National Guardsman’s Trip to Walmart With His Family Turns Into Potentially Deadly Nightmare — Then His Training Kicked In | TheBlaze.com.

This is another reason we’re leery of the emphasis on the quick-draw in so much use of force and handgun training. Sometimes the best place for it is in the holster. When you need it, you are much, much more likely to have the time to draw it (and even prepare it) than you are to be assaulted out of a cold situation.

IPSC Hostage targetPolice training would have emphasized an early draw in this situation. The suspect has deployed deadly force (the knife), and cops are keenly aware of justr how deadly a knife is, and how quickly a knife-wielding bad guy can close normal distances. In addition to that, police policy is, generally, to meet force with overwhelming force to impress the suspect into immediate surrender, and it works great on rational suspects. But a force escalation produces unpredictable results with irrational suspects. The majority of them can be talked down (and this does seem to be what happens in most of these cases, policy notwithstanding). Those that resist often resist in a slow-motion, dare-you-to-shoot-me way. There is usually time for a less-kinetic approach to these less-kinetic threats.

So what should police training emphasize? In a perfect world, individualized judgment. Simple rules and mantras are probably necessary if you insist on deploying some 80-IQ blockheads among your cops, but you want to have pretty good liability coverage if that’s your plan. (In a lot of jurisdictions, some pretty bright cops have slipped into the force — heh).

It’s not like waving the gun does the cops much good. Movies notwithstanding, most shooters can not make the shot on a bobbing, weaving perp’s head as he crouches behind a hostage at a few meters. IPSC hostage targets just sit there, and nothing but points hang in the balance. Even “moving” targets usually have either limited, one-axis, or repetitive motion.  A real human head is a very hard thing to hit, especially one that’s wrapped around the idea that someone wants to shoot it.

Finally, we as a nation are scandalously overdue for doing something about the problem of mental illness. (Clayton Cramer made these points well in the University of Connecticut Law Review [HTML intro / .pdf article] this past May — for all of you who thought it was just a basketball school, they train lawyers too). We need to have new authorities for involuntary commitment, new authorities for involuntary outpatient treatment (“probation” and “parole” equivalents), and facilities to confine and treat the involuntarily committed. These will be expensive, but will remove a major drain on the economy. Our experiment with deinstitutionalization is forty years old, and it’s a sanguinary failure. It’s time to end it with humane reinstitutionalization for the dangerous mentally ill.

9 thoughts on “A Remarkable Defensive Gun Non-Use

  1. guy

    We need to have new authorities for involuntary commitment, new authorities for involuntary outpatient treatment (“probation” and “parole” equivalents), and facilities to confine and treat the involuntarily committed.

    And who exactly do you plan to entrust with this power?

  2. Pathfinder

    Thanks for a place of clarity in the wide world of webs.

    Can I use “Steroids Weapons And Tantrum squad”? It truly made me laugh out load on a day I could really use it.

    1. Hognose Post author

      By all means, while I did make that one up, most of my bons mots are lifted from some other pundit. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, eh.

  3. Aesop

    “Our experiment with deinstitutionalization is forty years old, and it’s a sanguinary failure. It’s time to end it with humane reinstitutionalization for the dangerous mentally ill. “

    “Amen!” from the sh*tty end of the stick.

    As to whom to entrust with that power, the same people we trust now.
    The problem isn’t putting these dingalings in the bag, it’s keeping them in once they get placed on a hold.

    Dr. Ihavenopsychbeds sees Mr. Dingaling, they convince each other it was all a terrible misunderstanding, and that he was just trying to swat a fly on momma’s neck with his handy hogsticker, and he’s back on the street before the cop is finished with his end-of-watch reports. I’ve gotten to the point that I’m about to start tracking some of those docs home, and putting their home address on the crazy people’s discharge paperwork. But it’s really not all their fault, because there really isn’t anyplace those people can get sent to.

    This is why some of the cops just get tired of that do-sie-do, and just start capping the mofos when they think they can get away with it.

    Come pull a holiday weekend three night shift in a busy ER, and let me introduce you to the baker’s dozen to threescore of pending psych holds you’ll find there, every single time.
    And we know half of them by name before they even get them uncuffed, because we’ve seen the same crap 10-500 times before.

    As King For A Day, they’d be dropped off on one of the CA coast Channel Islands, and once a week a helo would kick a few cases of MREs out the door.
    Or, they could volunteer to be placed in perpetuity into a nice institution, get a comfy bed and hot food, and weave baskets or paint butterflies all day long. But they’d take their meds and stay in the big house, period. Visiting days on the weekends. If they want out of the program, a flight to the island, a blanket, and fond wishes for the rest of their life.

    Problem solved.

    I’m tired of running into guys loose at the mall or rooting in the dumpsters in the back alley that I’ve had on 5150 holds at the ER for running in traffic or waving knives and guns around, ten or fifty times.

    They should be locked up, not everyone else.

  4. guy

    They should be locked up, not everyone else.

    But that’s the point. Take ‘Gun Control’. The Powers What Is have zero interest in criminal gun use, they just want an even bigger stick with which to beat the non-criminals.

    “As to whom to entrust with that power, the same people we trust now.” Who have abused that trust to shreds. Remember any time you want to propose a new law, stop and think, “This law will be enforced by people who hate me” and you won’t be far wrong. I have no doubt that the definition of ‘mentally unstable’ would become incredibly fluid.

    I understand that this is a huge problem that needs to be addressed, but would you at least agree to test this on the lowest power setting available – city or state? Handing the Feds yet another excuse to strip people of their rights and lock them up is insane.

    1. Aesop

      “Who have abused that trust to shreds.”

      Uh, no.
      The three entities that can place holds on peole hereabouts are the po-po, the emergency doctors, and the local Psych Emergency Team.
      Total number of allegations of abuse of discretion I am aware of in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several US territories, 1900-present: zero.

      For some reason, apparently when someone is but naked running back and forth on top of a semi-truck at 3 AM playing king of the hill with arresting officers, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for anyone’s legal cousel to be second-guessing the judgment that Mr. Batguano was Barking Bugf**k Nuts, when the case gets to court review.

      Is the potential for abuse there? Certainly. That’s why each staep has built in automatic legal review in court.
      But if you don’t trust somebody, you have absolute anarchy.
      I’d be okay with that, but I’ll need more ammunition for my free-time community improvement efforts at that point.

      So I’ma go with doing things the way that’s worked near-flawlessly throughout living history, with the helpful addition of a permanent basket to solve the current longstanding catch-and-release policy.

  5. Alien

    I’ll second the motion, with reservations. Aesop and Guy hit the problems at both ends of the scale.

    First, some of these people are unsalvageable; their mental hardware and software is so out of spec even the strongest psychotropic pharmaceuticals may, at best, make them only “manageable.” For these, institutionalization is the only answer.

    Some are close enough to spec that with treatment, including pharmaceutical treatment and behavior modification, they can be easily managed; unfortunately, enough of this group need some degree of institutionalization to ensure they stay on path, because left to themselves they’ll stop taking meds for one reason or another, which leads to the need for re-institutionalization and program restart – expensive and resource intensive. Some sort of “institutionalization light,” an open managed care facility, or frequent practitioner visits might be appropriate.

    And some are just off spec, and capable of recognizing both that they need help and that certain kinds of help are advantageous to them. People who can function “normally” but need some help to do so. These people also need regular involvement/contacting, if for no other reason than it provide encouragement and reinforcement.

    When one says “institutionalization” what comes to mind is a Cuckoo’s Nest type of environment – incarceration with a smile and better food. Mental health is a field of, largely, guesses and suppositions based on prior experience. Doctors of the body can point to lab tests to confirm cancer and anemia, or x-rays to confirm broken bones. Doctors of the mind, in the absence of determinable chemical imbalance, don’t have nearly as good a road map. I’m confident most people who encountered John Hinkley believed him to be within a standard deviation or so of what we term “normal:” perhaps not within the center third of the bell curve, but not out at the tails, either. They were wrong.

    So, whom do we trust to manage these categories and take the appropriate action in each case? That’s a lot of responsibility for a society to exercise, a society where the productive are busier than ever and the rest are texting their BFFs about American Idol. And where does the money come from? There’s data to support fewer than 10% of criminals are responsible for over 75% of crime; my experience in LE confirms much of that (in the community where I worked we booked about 63K adults/year, and the repeater rate was right at 80%). How many of those are in that sphere because of mental health issues, and how many of them could be “salvaged”? What would the cost savings be to the criminal justice system, and the victims, and would the CJ community rebel at having some of its rice bowl shifted to mental health programs? If mental health becomes a bigger issue, what metrics get employed to track success rates and negative event avoidance? Who runs it and what’s the accountability for them?

    I don’t have any magic answers. Wish I did.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Read Clayton Cramer’s articles, starting with the one linked in the original post. He has a unique view as a civil rights activist, constitutional scholar and (adjunct, I think) professor, who has experienced mental health issues (severe ones) in his own immediate family. From your thoughtful response, I suspect you are no stranger to his work, though.

      In any event, Cramer suggests that there be institutionalization for the ones that truly need it. The sort of “liberty” that well-meaning ACLUniks have bought them steeps them in misery and shortens their lives. But his innovative idea is that there be involuntary commitment to outpatient treatment. You need meds to function in society? You have to show up at the Brain Housing Group clinic and be seen to take them by the PA or NP on duty there. At the same time, you’re in the clinic frequently enough that your illness can be managed, to the extent that we can manage any of these mental illnesses — you’re quite right about the difficulties they pose, and the complete absence of quality therapies (or even solid diagnostics, demonstrated by the fact that every DSM revision becomes a political/academic football) for many mental illnesses.

      Many of these people need life time care, and their very illnesses make self-care impractical. They can get it only when they become violent and get picked up by cops, or on a steady outpatient basis if the force of society is behind that, or inside the house of neoprene wallpaper. Right now America (and most of the civilized world) has chosen Door #1 and are living with the consequences, but we did not make the choice conscious of its consequences.

      1. Alien

        BTDT, got the T shirt. See: Florida statutes, Chapter 394.451, aka the Baker Act. There are arrestees who should be BA’d but the state (and the counties) balks at how much money the facilities charge for the 72 hour hold and eval (which is simultaneously too much and not enough), and at the end of 72 unless there’s a serious, well identified need, or something MH staff think justifies a judicial hearing, they become outpatient.

        Lather, rinse, repeat.

        I’ve got a copy of My Brother Ron and know Clayton via email.

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