More Armed Protesters: What's Your Move?
Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Now it's happening in Indianapolis: openly armed demonstrators stopping and threatening drivers on public roads.
Take a look at the video below. Starting at about 35 seconds in, the video cuts to a blue pickup truck being stopped by a masked person wearing a brightly-colored black and yellow top over dark pants holding a handgun in a low ready position. This armed protester is joined by a second masked armed protester moving from the passenger side of the truck to the front, brandishing a handgun held in a sort of high port position before getting to the front of the truck where he lowers it and comes to a low ready position.
To be objective, at least the armed men are practicing fairly good muzzle discipline. However, they are assuming a stance and a hold consistent with preparing to come up on target and shoot. I was going to say that experienced firearms users will recognize this low ready stance as a preparatory movement before shooting. However, even if you are inexperienced with firearms you know what the stance of a person threatening you looks like. The driver of the truck obviously understands the threatening nature of both of these men's movements, stances, and holds of their handguns.
It's not difficult to recognize a threatening behavior. In another case, a protester in Austin was shot by a driver after the protester allegedly raised his AK 47 next the driver's window. The key for us to remember is to have a response to those threats.
Threatened by Gunmen: Your Move?
So, let's accept that we recognize this as threatening behavior. Some could argue that without guns, these two might be dismissed as posing a threat to someone safely locked into a vehicle. However, with guns the whole dynamic changes to the gunmen having a decided advantage.
The driver wisely backs up and looks for a way to slowly drive around the crowd. When the crowd and the gunmen quickly move to block the truck again, the driver slowly backs up and turns around to drive away.
The key word here is 'wisely'.
"But, wait, I have the right to drive on this public road! I'm not going to take that from anybody. If someone tries that with me I'm either gonna run them over or gun them down myself!"
My goal in confrontations with adversaries is to gain and maintain tactical superiority.
Before we give into our base reactions, let's look at the lack of tactical superiority you are facing as the driver:
Two armed adversaries vs. you? You and your spouse? You and your kids?
Adversaries are already staged in front of the windshield with a clear view of you as you are relatively immobile belted into the front seat.
Adversaries have already drawn, assumed two-handed firing grips, and are in ready position to engage.
The lag time between hitting the accelerator and moving the vehicle is long enough that the armed adversaries can engage before you can either: a.) move forward with any force to hit them; b.) move backwards with enough speed to clear the killing zone. In fact, moving backwards still keeps you in line with their fire. You are just becoming a smaller target. Hitting the accelerator harder just means spinning your back tires (easy to do in an unloaded pickup truck) and going nowhere fast.
Are you able to shoot your way out? Can you shoot and drive at the same time? Will you even have time to draw, come up on target, get sight alignment, and engage before they do? Is your strong-side hip carry accessible under your seat belt? Have you practiced drawing from a seated position?
Is your vehicle armored/bullet resistant? Are you wearing body armor? Probably not or you would be working this protest or getting your principal as far away from this situation as possible.
Face it. They have to drop on you.
Unless you are rocking a counter assault team in your G wagon or covered from an overwatch position, it's better to make a retreat and be slightly inconvenienced. Even if it's absolutely galling that you had to do so.
But What About the Armed Protesters?
Yes, you do have the right of way on public streets in your vehicle. Most states recognize this. But most states also discourage the deliberate mowing down of pedestrians -- even if they are breaking the law.
And, yes, they are threatening you. From the other side of the argument, there are those who claim they are simply defending fellow protesters from being mowed down by vehicles driving through the crowds. There is a strong narrative about white supremacists deliberately targeting crowds of protesters. Stories on NPR, for example, cite staggering numbers of deliberate attacks on protesters. This narrative is held strongly by many, so you can see some of the actions of protesters through this prism. This explains the reaction by the protester shooting at a family in a Jeep driving along a freeway. Unfortunately, he shot two other protesters while missing the Jeep. That's him in the photo below as he was firing at the Jeep.
Some protesters have adopted an effective tactic of blocking the road with a row of vehicles following the movement of the protesters to provide a barrier against vehicles. I also think this is effective to keep innocent motorists from unwittingly becoming entangled in these situations.
In this case in Indianapolis, the two armed protesters were obviously working to stop the driver at gunpoint.
Most jurisdictions have laws against brandishing firearms and Indiana is no exception. An interesting curveball is that the Indiana code is headed as "pointing" a firearm at another person.
Indiana Code 35-47-4-3. Pointing firearm at another person
Current as of: 2019
Sec. 3. (a) This section does not apply to a law enforcement officer who is acting within the scope of the law enforcement officer’s official duties or to a person who is justified in using reasonable force against another person under: (1) IC 35-41-3-2; or (2) IC 35-41-3-3. (b) A person who knowingly or intentionally points a firearm at another person commits a Level 6 felony. However, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor if the firearm was not loaded.
Does this mean that pointing a firearm down at the ground as you stand in front of a stopped vehicle not constitute brandishing? Is there a fine line between "literally" pointing a firearm at someone or assuming a fighting stance without pointing the muzzle at someone?
As an aside, It's interesting in Indiana that the punishment is less for brandishing a firearm which is not loaded versus one that is. That point came up with the St. Louis couple who had to defend their property from a mob of protesters recently. The wife's handgun was apparently inoperable at the time of this incident. Does that mean Missouri law also offers a lesser penalty for brandishing an unloaded or in operable firearm?
She might be completely innocent of brandishing under Missouri law:
Under Section 571.030(4) of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, it is a crime when a person “[e]xhibits, in the presence of one or more persons, any weapon readily capable of lethal (emphasis added) use in an angry or threatening manner.”
Despite these two examples, we cannot recommend relying on an unloaded or inoperable firearm (like a toy gun, an airsoft gun, or a theatrical replica) for self-defense:
What if your bluff doesn't work? There are people out there, hardened by life, that are not impressed by the sight of a gun.
Granted, the introduction of a firearm into an altercation can give most people pause. You might think you are "de-escalating" the situation. Maybe you "just want to scare" them. But people can get understandably upset when you threaten them with lethal force. If they don't run away, they are predisposed to using deadly force on you. Your toy gun won't be of much use then.
It's axiomatic that when you need a gun, you really need a gun.
Remember that bad guys go to prison all the time for robberies done with a toy gun. Most of the time you will be treated, legally as well as tactically, as if the weapon is real and capable of deadly force.
We are in a strange time of social and cultural fracturing which seems to be emboldening criminal and terroristic behaviors that were once frowned upon by governmental leadership.
In this case in Indianapolis it will remain to be seen if there is any type of follow up by law enforcement. According to this article, Indianapolis leaders, including Democrat Mayor Joe Hogsett and the Indianapolis City-County Council have remained silent about the situation.
Keep training. Make every day a training day.
This is not going to be over anytime soon.