This is a subject of great interest to all of us who carry in self-defense, because what Dunn done wrong came around and done Dunn wrong in the end. He’s almost certainly going to die in prison, and he didn’t have to. Somewhere along the way some bad ideas took root in his head; perhaps he got some bad advice. But on the day he chose to defend himself with a gun he did a lot of things wrong. Some of them could have gotten him and his then-fiancee killed, if he’d really been in the high-threat situation he thought he was in (giving his testimony the benefit of all doubt).
Don’t go starting a fight
When you go armed, you ought to have a quiet confidence about you, not a bullyrag swagger. Believe it or not, criminals can pick up on this, and they will leave somebody like you alone.
Don’t react to a small man with a big mouth. The mouthy guy is seldom a true threat, even in front of his peers. Ignore him; don’t let him get your goat.
You are not the world’s Punk Kid Policeman. Even real policemen don’t take on that role, if they have any sense at all. Punk Kids contain within themselves the seeds of their own education (or destruction, if they’re slow learners). Don’t waste your time trying to accelerate the process if they’re not an immediate threat to your life and family.
It’s not a quick-draw contest
Way, way, way too much training emphasizes speed. Now hear this: forget that. Almost every fatal accident we’ve ever looked at, whether it’s a shooting accident, an aircraft accident or industrial accident, has some component of hurry about it. Now, against that, can you think of any time when a citizen was killed because he didn’t draw fast enough? There are certainly some cases in police work, but not as many cases as there are cases where undue haste has caused a problem.
In many successful cases of self-defense (which we define as defending yourself successfully from the attacker, and not becoming a chew toy for the Angela Coreys of the world), the defender had the gun out already because he or she had correctly assessed the intentions of the attacker. He or she had the gun out and waited for confirmation of that assessment.
Don’t ever let a bullet go anywhere your mind hasn’t gotten to at least a couple seconds before. Responsible trainers might want to think about focusing their training more upon when to shoot and whether to shoot, than on how to shoot, especially on how to shoot quickly. While important facets of shooting depend on muscle memory, the critical when and whether are too important to delegate to your amygdala (or anywhere lower).
Gun on your person, period
If your girlfriend doesn’t like it, 86 her and find a new one. Seriously. One reason Michael Dunn may have shot is that he had to turn his attention from the “threat” (as he claims to have perceived Jordan Davis) into his car to retrieve his handgun from the glove compartment.
A glove compartment is a lousy place for a gun. Back seat is no place for a gun. (See this story from the FBI’s 1986 Miami gunfight). There are also lots of women who like to carry their gun in a purse. If you’re thinking about that, two words: purse snatching.
Having to retrieve a gun that’s not where you need it to be can be impossible under fire, like the 1986 FBI agents discovered. Happy to retrieve a gun that’s not where you need it to be may cause you to lose situational awareness. This latter may have happened to Michael Dunn. If Jordan Davis had been a threat, it was very unwise for Dunn to ever turn his back on him. If, as seems probable from the evidence at the trial, Davis was no threat, Michael Dunn lost the opportunity to see that and de-escalate the situation.
Don’t fire if you don’t need to fire
One of the tragedies of the Michael Dunn case is that, by all testimony, Dunn probably didn’t need to fire. “Minimum response to end the threat,” means in many cases that all you need to do is show a gun and the threats will back away. Think of the old Lynyrd Skynyrd song: “Gimme three steps, gimme three steps, Mister.”
The average human being understands that being shot is an unpleasant thing, and wouldn’t you know it? He prefers not to be shot. Being willing to shoot somebody, and demonstrating that will, is often enough to resolve the situation without the need to actually break a single round.
We can never change what happened that night, but imagine a scenario in which Dunn did not fire but merely displayed his large stainless steel handgun (it was a Taurus PT 92, a license built Beretta copy). Based on the testimony at trial, it seems highly probable that driver Tommy Storms, Davis and his friends would have exited the parking lot with alacrity, and not come back for quite a while.
However heartbreakingly counterfactual that is, if it had gone that way, Dunn’s next task must have been to call the police and tell them what he did. In cases like this, as will get to in a minute, the first call to the police is almost always assumed to be the “victim,” and any subsequent caller has to overcome that presumption, before he is taken seriously as a victim. This is not written in want anywhere as far as we know; it’s simply psychology. Our brains, and that certainly includes the brains of police dispatchers and officers, tend to give much more weight to first information than to any subsequent information.
All the “rules” still apply in a DGU
Jordan Davis died in the back seat of this well-ventilated SUV. Michael Dunn went to prison for it.
How many did Dunn violate? What about “know your target and what’s behind it”? Of his 10 shots, a maximum of 3 were fired at a confirmed, threatening target (and this is giving his testimony the maximum benefit of the doubt). Three more were fired at a target that Dunn admitted was a car. A car that was backing away.
We’ll address the legal problems with that in a moment, but consider for now the problem of aiming and firing in this situation. What was Michael Dunn’s target? He said he fired “to keep their heads down.” The pure wrongness of this concept, will also deal with below. But as a defensive gun use, you really have no business firing at anything but a clearly visible threat. Testimony and crime scene photos all agreed: the SUV and darkly tinted glass, and it was impossible to see anything inside those windows. (For those of you who are not from that area, a heavy, opaque tint is very common on vehicles that will be parked in the Florida sun. In many northern states, tinting that heavy is banned for the convenience of police).
Shooting at a target you can’t see is never a very good idea. Doing it in a case that has a high probability of being reviewed by lawyers at their desks, as in any defensive gun use, is an exceedingly bad idea. As Michael Dunn could tell you, if he wasn’t locked up for what will probably be the rest of his natural life.
It’s as important to know when to stop, as it is to know when to shoot
Note this: if your threat is retreating, unless he continues to fire in the retreat, he has ceased to be a threat to you, in a civilian defensive gun use situation. Months later, in a slow-paced, climate-controlled courtroom, people who do not know you will assess each one of your shots as justified or not, and work back from that to determine what your intentions were at the time.
Dunn’s last three shots were particularly hard to justify. At this point, the SUV was fleeing headlong and Dunn fired three shots at the retreating vehicle from almost the 180° or 6 o’clock position, as the vehicle sped away from him. Even a cop is going to have some courtroom trouble with shots like that, and under most state laws cops are authorized to fire at fleeing felons. You, on the other hand, are not.
Many instructors teach that once you initiate firing, you should keep firing until your gun is empty. This is an extremely bad idea. You should keep firing until the threat is under control. If the threat is down, if he’s dropped his weapon, if he is no longer engaging you — at this point, you should check fire. Maintain vigilance, kick his weapon beyond his reach, whatever you need to do. Be ready to shoot again, but don’t do it, absent a clear threat.
As soon as possible, safe and secure your weapon. The best place for your weapon to be when the police arrive is laying down in the open, or secure in your holster on your belt, In the safest condition possible: that’s decocked with safety on if your handgun is so equipped. A long gun should be empty and clear, both walked back, and clearly visible and well out of your reach. Expect the police who arrive to a “shots fired” call to be somewhat jumpy. Wouldn’t you be?
Remember, the arriving police won’t know what you know: they won’t know who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. Expect to be handcuffed and questioned roughly. You could very well be down at the station – still handcuffed – before they figure out what really happened.
Understand what “suppressive fire” is – and leave it on the battlefield!
There’s a very broad misunderstanding of “suppressive fire” in the civilian gun community. It is not random or unaimed fire. While it is intended to, “keep their heads down,” as Michael Dunn testified that he was trying to do, is properly done by applying aimed fire to the locations where enemy forces are, or are expected momentarily to be, in ground combat. In other words you’re aiming at where his head is, or where his head will stick up if he sticks it up.
It is an infantry combat technique, and is not good policy for police, and absolutely never should be considered for civilian self defenders. Even many infantry units don’t do it right.
Exercise for the reader: consider explaining how “suppressive fire” that you used in a DGU conforms to the four fundamentals of gun safety, let alone the self-defense law of your state or territory. Consider that you are explaining this not to your buddies in the local gun shop, but to a random audience of people picked because they didn’t particularly offend either the lawyer defending you or the one trying to add your scalp to his trophy case. Can you make your case to your kid’s middle school teacher, who thinks that guns are “icky”?
The juror interviews that Andrew Branca has analyzed at the Legal Insurrection website show that jurors are just that ordinary people who, in this case, made the best effort they could, to come up with a unanimous and just outcome.
Call 911 first, or ASAP
Yes, it takes minutes for them to come when seconds count. You might still have to shoot. But you might not. Even if your DGU is more justified than the Ways of God to His ownself, having to draw means lots of hassle (statements, “Let’s go downtown,” cops who get lied to all day long every day trying to shake your story, and digging into any misstatement or inconsistency, etc., etc). Having to fire is an exponential increase in hassle over that.
You will not get the benefit of the doubt a cop gets
That’s just the way it is. Cops can shoot unarmed folks all week, lawyer up with the PBA’s retainer guy, and recite the Cop Magic Incantation™ (“I was in fear for my life!”) and the only bad thing that happens is that, in some cases, guys like us know they’re cowards. Sure, if they guy they shot was black, there will be some dodgy Reverend screaming to have them nailed to a cross, but the actual hammer and nails are never in evidence; it’s all Reverend’s-flock-maintenance kabuki.
In 2014, the armed citizen doesn’t get that same bending-over-backwards benefit of the doubt. That’s just the way it is: you’re going to have to deal with it.
Stand your ground unless driven from it
By this, we’re absolutely not referencing the legal concept of “stand your ground.” What we mean is this: do not leave the scene of the defensive gun use unless you absolutely must. And if you must leave, get on the horn to the police immediately. Do not hesitate, do not delay, do not go home and hope the whole thing disappears.
Something very bad has happened, even if you are alive and safe. And it’s going to get worse before gets better. But denial, flight, “ostrich mode,” call it whatever you want: these options are not really available to you. Not unless you want to wind up matriculating at Cold Stone College for the Long Course.
Be prepared for your case to have a racial angle
If you are of a different race in the individual you have just shot, your situation is even more complicated and troublesome. People of your assailant’s race will automatically assume that you fired the shot you fired out of pure racial animus. Almost anything you can say in this case will be used against you. If the prosecution has access to it (and if you’re in pretrial confinement, the prosecution will have access to all your communications), expect them to cherry pick it and leak the details that are most embarrassing and troubling to your case. This can poison the jury pool, which is why they leak it; it can follow you for months or years afterward.
Consider George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in his case, but is subject to death threats practically daily and is bankrupt more or less unable to lead a normal life.
In the Dunn case, the racial angle was heavily played up by the press. Dunn did not help himself with unguarded comments in communications from prison. Even today, there seems to be a wide disparity in how white and black Americans view the Zimmerman and Dunn cases. Many if not most blacks see both cases as examples of white men that got away with murdering black innocence. A disturbing number of whites have argued that Dunn was justified in shooting Davis because “blacks are statistically more prone to violence,” or some other argument from sociology or from something other than the facts in the immediate case.
You can’t prejudge someone to be a threat and engage him based on his race, his “thug music,” or his surly behavior. You might not like any of those things, but they’re not a clear and present threat to your life and health. It does not matter that there’s more black-on-white crime than white-on-black crime. It only matters whether you’re presently threatened with violent crime; and it’s of absolutely no consequence what race the person is. Until you fire the shot, and are being tried for it in the press.
Be prepared for media misconduct
Whether you think that newspapers normally report objectively and factually, or are a little more aware of how they actually work, expect to be shocked by how you and your case are portrayed in the papers. And you’ll look like Mother Theresa there, compared to the way that you’ll look on television, which will portray you as something between Charles Bronson in the Death Wish movies and Lee Harvey Oswald.
Examples of misreporting in the Dunn case include the assertion that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was applied (it wasn’t), and that the jury was all white (it wasn’t), but there are many more. In this it was a replay of the Zimmerman case, in that the case as reported by Branca’s live-blogging and the case as presented on TV had little in common.
Reporters come to defensive gun you stories with a pre-written narrative, and the facts of your case will be hammered to fit — and discarded where they don’t. As a result, most reporters and columnists, who are lazy and merely rewrite what they read in other reporters’ stories and columns, will diverge further and further from the facts of the case as the case wears on.
Expect this. Don’t lose your cool over it. It’s just what they do.
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.