Armed Defense: You Have a Hammer, Now Every Threat Looks Like a Nail
Updated: Dec 26, 2021
The recent shooting in Denver, Colorado, illustrates the problem with only having one response to a threat -- namely your trusted defensive handgun for dealing with any and all situations.
Here's a frame-by-frame break down of the shooting:
Reportedly the man in the blue shirt with the orange pack (shown below at the far right) is a journalist from NBC Chan. 9 News in Denver who has a hired security guard -- the man in the dark shirt and grey pants seen in the photo below. The man in the vest and boonie hat shown in the photo at the left, identified as Lee Keltner, was involved in an argument that the journalist wanted to cover. Keltner allegedly told the journalist not to film him and the guard, identified as Matthew Dolloff (middle of photo), intercepted the advancing man and either put his hands on the man's chest to stop him from advancing on the journalist or he attempted to grab Keltner's OC spray (shown in Keltner's right hand). This prompted Kelner to slap the guard with an open hand, as shown in the photo below.
In this picture, the slap has just made contact and is now following through. Notice Dolloff's hat and glasses are spinning off his head.
Here Dolloff is recovering from the slap delivered by Keltner, who is moving backwards with the can of OC spray in his right hand.
Keltner is still retreating from the Dolloff who is now starting to square up to Keltner (note Dolloff's hat is till in the air behind him).
Dolloff is now bringing his hands towards his center line, moving to draw his concealed pistol from under his shirt as Keltner is transferring his weight onto his rear leg as he continues to move away from Dolloff.
Keltner is now out of hand-to-hand striking range, while Dolloff is preparing to clear his shirt for a draw stroke from the appendix position.
The guard's shirt is now clear and he is starting to give purchase on the grip of his pistol as Keltner moves his right leg backwards.
There seem to be a few missing frames, but at this point the guard has discharged his handgun and see it returning to battery with a spent case in the air. Judging by the previous frames of this encounter, it appears the OC spray Keltner is discharging is in response to the guard drawing his handgun. Note how far apart they are spread at this point; the OC is near its max distance, and they are nowhere near being close to hand-to-hand striking range. Using the chainlink fence in the background as a guide, it appears Keltner has retreated pretty much half the length of the fence segment as noted by the vertical pole visible rising behind Keltner's left shoulder.
Now there is a video which attempts to paste together numerous views on the same timeline as this situation unfolded:
NOTE: The video originally linked to here has been taken down by YouTube. There does not appear to be a suitable alternative available. Please comment if you have one. We have recently been moving to physically capture videos that illustrate self-defense situation or principles for precisely this reason.
The Problem with Your Hammer in Self-Defense
Dolloff's single shot response to a threat is a pretty classic trained response. We have all practiced it before: the range officer yells 'contact', you draw your handgun and fire a single shot center mass, scan for threats, then re-holster and prepare to do it again.
This is can be problematic if you only train one response to a threat. That means you will only respond to any threat in one way.
In other words, if you've only trained to deliver lethal force from your handgun, it becomes the hammer in the old adage and every threat you see is a nail.
You need to have multiple tools in your tool box when it comes to self-defense. The basic law of the land is that you can't shoot someone because they punched you, just as you can't punch someone in a movie theater because they scuffed your Puma. It comes down to a legal concept called proportionality which basically means you can only use the amount of force necessary to stop the force being used on you.
The definition of lethal force is that it is any force, intentionally applied, that a reasonable person knows -- or should know -- will cause death or serious bodily harm.
According to attorney and use-of-force expert Andrew Branca:
In general, deadly force in self-defense may only be used to counter a deadly-force threat—that is, an imminent threat of death or grave bodily harm. If the threatened force cannot reasonably be expected to cause death or grave bodily harm, then deadly force may not be used to counter that threat.
Branca says not understanding this principle can be "devastating" if you are trying to claim self-defense in a deadly-force incident.
Looking at Dolloff's reaction through this prism, how can he claim that Keltner's slap made him feel threatened with imminent threat of death or grave bodily harm? Especially since Keltner continued to retreat after the first contact? One could surmise that Dolloff's defense might revolve around the assertion that Dolloff saw a 'gun' in the right hand of Keltner, or he believed that the OC carried by Keltner might be used to incapacitate him. Because he believed he was going to be shot or incapacitated by the aggressive Kelter, that he had no other choice than to draw and fire first.
Seems that authorities are not seeing it that way either. In this case, the New York Post reports that Dolloff has now been charged with second-degree murder for the shooting death of Keltner. Under Colorado law, second-degree murder is defined as knowingly killing someone but without the premeditation prosecutors are required to prove in first-degree murder cases.
A television station security guard accused of fatally shooting a pro-police demonstrator following opposing rallies was charged Monday with second-degree murder, according to the Denver district court clerk’s office.
The charges in the death of Lee Keltner, 49, were filed to the district court against Matthew Dolloff, 30, who was protecting a KUSA-TV producer at the time of the incident.
People convicted of second-degree murder face a mandatory sentence of between 16 and 48 years in prison.
The Realities of Fighting for CCW and Armed Citizens
The reality for those of us who choose to have the option of armed defense is that the overwhelming majority of conflicts we will be in our lives do not require the use of a firearm to solve. There are also numerous locations where we are either not allowed to be armed or we've been asked not to be armed by the proprietor.
In short, there will be many times when we are unarmed or legally unjustified in using our firearm.
This is the problem illustrated with this post. Being armed allows us to defend ourselves and others from lethal force. But being armed does not allow us to defend ourselves from being insulted, being spit on, being shoved, or even being slapped. It is times like these, when the threat of lethal force is not present, that we need to have other tools as mentioned earlier in this post.
What are the Tools We Need in our Self-Defense Toolbox?
We all should be diligently practicing and pursuing excellence in our defensive skills. Some trainers teach those skills in a sort of ladder or progression of actions referred to as the "Use of Force Continuum". Arguments abound whether the concept is dated or not, but it can serve a purpose to illustrate how much we are missing in our personal defense profile when we only depend on firearms or lethal force as the solution.
Generally, we want to look at training to develop skills in these seven areas:
Awareness. The best way to win a fight is to be absent when it kicks off. Training to see potential areas/situations for conflict and then maneuvering around potential flash points.
Presence. Your physical stature, posture, attentiveness, and movement which projects confidence and competence to deter potential adversaries.
De-escalating or disengaging. This can be the "fighting without fighting" part. Involves verbal and behavioral techniques to disrupt or de-escalate a conflict.
Controlling or entangling. This relates to techniques which softly control or manipulate opponents' bodies or limbs without hitting.
Striking and grappling. Defending and gaining the tactical advantage when the physical hitting begins.
Non-Lethal Deterrents. Using non-lethal measures like OC/pepper spray or tasers; not to be confused with 'Less Lethal' like rubber buckshot or bean bag shotgun rounds.
Defending with lethal force. Use of weapons and techniques which can cause death or serious bodily harm.
There is more to this discussion we are going to be tackling because the very popular question we get is along the lines of when can I start shooting? If you have that question, consider this list and see that six of the seven levels do not involve your firearm, tactical folder, or tomahawk.
If you are armed for self-defense, please consider the majority of the conflicts you will be faced with which don't demand a lethal force response. That bears repeating: the overwhelming conflicts you will face in your life will not be lethal force encounters. Train now to have the fighting skills you need to defend yourself along the broad spectrum in-between rude behavior and lethal force.
Train accordingly. We will have more in future posts for your consideration.