Should You Draw Your Gun to Help a LEO?

Most states’ application forms for concealed handgun licenses say that your sidearm is solely for your own protection and that of your spouse and children. Your permit is not a license to interfere in other people’s fights, and state laws discourage you from doing so. But what if a LEO (law-enforcement officer) is being beaten or killed? Should you intervene then?

I cannot tell you what to do. It is your judgment call, after all. But there is an interesting mismatch between what police spokepersons claim and what armed citizens actually do. And there is an even more interesting mismatch between what desk-bound police spokespersons advise and what front-line patrol officers want.

Desk Cops: No, Never

Police spokespersons (including administrators and politicians) are often statists. They must be in order to be elected or appointed to the job. And so, they believe that the state should have a monopoly on the use of force. They label the use of force by armed citizens as “taking the law into their own hands” or “vigilantism”.

To such people, the thought that armed citizens might help the police is doubly hateful. First, such a thought would imply that deadly force by armed citizens is sometimes desirable, an implication rebutting the statist dogma that citizens cannot be trusted. Second, it implies that police sometimes need help, suggesting that the state is not always supreme.

Desk Cops: It Never Happens

It is then psychologically easy to slide from “should be” to “is”–from the idea that armed citizens should not help police to the idea that it does not happen. Through congintive dissonance—see Leon Festinger, Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Stanford: Stanford University, 1957)—the statist desire that citizens should be passive victims in theory, becomes the inaccurate claim that citizens are passive victims in fact. Here are the words of police spokespersons:

(All six of the following quotations are from Yahoo Answers).

  • Very seldom will any law enforcement official allow a civilian to back them up in a deadly situation like that. The civilian doesn’t have the training nor the bullet proof vest to protect them from getting killed- not to mention the liability the department would have to take if an officer did allow that to happen. — 15 yrs Law Enforcement
  • It is extremely rare for a citizen to “back up” a police officer. Most citizens in their right minds who are at a mall and see a guy shooting people will get the hell out of there as soon as possible, not attempt to intervene in the situation and risk getting shot by the perpetrator or an accomplice. While it’s a good idea in theory, I haven’t heard of a single case where anything like that has ever happened. — Azzz doggg
  • As a LEO (law enforcement officer), if I was involved in a deadly force issue and someone else, in civilian clothing not known to me pulled a gun, that person might very well find themselves on the receiving end. — Fed LEO
  • I had the authority to issue CCW’s. I did in fact issue several of them to citizens of my community. I was one of only two Chiefs in my county of 18 Chiefs, who issued CCW’s. If someone applied for a permit from me and listed their reason as “backing up” law enforcement, I would have denied the permit. That is not the purpose of a civilian CCW permit. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but it is very rare and VERY dangerous. The CCW permit is for one reason, to protect your life and your loved ones. — Retired California Chief of Police
  • A CCW (concealed weapons permit) is for personal protection & isn’t to be used by people to cruise around town looking for a crime to intervene & play superhero with a gun. — 15 yrs Law Enforcement
  • The idea of “backing up” a uniformed police officer is a very dangerous area, even for police officers not in uniform. Many have been shot and killed, because the uniformed officers did not know who they were. Even if the officer announced himself, because the uniformed officer is now in survival mode and will have tunnel vision. — Fed LEO

Reality: It Happens All the Time

In fact, armed citizens routinely use deadly force to save the lives of police officers. Here is a brief random sampling of incidents:

  • July 31, 2012, Brownwood TX, Brownwood Bulletin — Gun owner saves cop’s life by shooting deranged gunman. Charles Ronald Conner argued with a couple about their dogs defecating in front of his trailer. He then  shot and killed the dogs and then the man and woman — David Michael House, 58, and Iris Valentina Calaci, 57. Connner then opened fire on police officer Sgt. Steven Means as he arrived at the scene. The murderer was behind cover. The police officer was not, and he was losing the firefight. Upon observing that the officer was about to be killed, bystander Vic Stacy shot and wounded the criminal with his legally owned revolver, enabling the LEO to move up and end the fight.

  • December 14, 2011, Canton OH, PoliceOne.com — A felon on probation for assault sucker-punched Canton Ohio police officer Tim Marks. When Officer Marks fell onto his back, the criminal tried to beat him to death. Tom Bowman, a married father of two teenage daughters, stepped in and saved the officer’s life by attacking the assailant and wrestling him until other police arrived.
  • January 16, 2011, Spokane WA, KREM.com — Bystander rescues officer from choke hold. Citizen saves the life of a police officer being choked to death by a felon on probation for assault.
  • December 16, 2010, Dayton OH,  CNN — Ohio police officer Jonathan Seiter believes in guardian angels after a good Samaritan helped save him from a driver who attacked him during a routine traffic stop. When she saw Seiter, a Dayton, Ohio, police officer tangled up with a man, Angela Pierce could have kept on driving. Instead, she got out of the car to team up with the officer and join the fight. While the danger was real — especially with the suspect in arm’s reach of the officer’s gun — Pierce told HLN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell that her thought process Saturday night was simple: The police officer needed help, and she was in a position to give it.
  • May 30, 2010, Fort Worth TX, Examiner.com — An armed citizen used his handgun to help save an officer who was being run down by a suspect in a vehicle. Police say that an officer on foot, in Fort Worth, Texas, approached two men in a vehicle, at which point the driver tried to run down the officer. The officer, along with a nearby citizen who was armed for self defense, reportedly opened fire on the vehicle, ending the attack. The passenger, who was hit, was reportedly taken pushed out of the vehicle by the driver and then apprehended by police. The officer and citizen who came to his aid were unharmed, and police are seeking the driver, who sped away.
  • February 17, 2006, Baton Rouge LA, The Shootist — A citizen shot and killed a man who had overpowered and was viciously beating a police officer. The results of that incident have scarred the lives of several people and families. Perry Stephens saved a man’s life that day. No witness who watched the event contradicts that statement. George Temple was beating Brian Harrison viciously, slamming his head into the pavement, and trying to take his duty handgun from him when Stephens shot him.
  • September 1, 1999, Inland Valley CA, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin — Ontario, CA , Humane Society officer Amy Murillo, 27, was responding to a local resident’s pleas when she attempted to call off a vicious dog. But the animal turned on Murillo, jumping at her and causing her to fall against her vehicle. She suffered several bites to the head and chest from the crazed animal. Witnessing the young officer’s plight, the resident who had summoned her help returned the favor by running to his house and retrieving a handgun. The dog then turned on the man who shot twice, killing it.
  • November 13, 1997, Sarasota, FL,  Herald-Tribune — Driving to work one morning, Jim Povia, of Sarasota, Florida, saw a state trooper with his service pistol drawn, confronting a trio of male suspects during a traffic stop. Povia, a right-to-carry permit holder, pulled over and grabbed his .40 cal. pistol and went to the aid of the officer. The two held the men until backup arrived. The driver of the vehicle was driving with a suspended license and a gun was found in the rear of the vehicle. The three men were charged with felony weapons possession.
  • September 8, 1996, Los Angeles CA, Los Angeles Times — Three citizens may have saved the life of a Los Angeles police officer Saturday after an assailant grabbed the lawman’s gun during a struggle and attempted to shoot him, police said. The trio, identified as Mark Woods, Emilio Santana and Erik Aba, all in their 40s, came to the officer’s rescue during the altercation on a downtown Los Angeles street shortly after noon.
  • July 1, 1996, Redlands CA,  The Daily Facts — Redlands, California, sheriff’s deputies credited an armed citizen with helping them capture four men and two juveniles who had just robbed a convenience store and pointed a gun at a plain clothes police officer as they made their initial getaway. Following a short chase all the suspects were captured. “One of the guys was detained at gunpoint by a resident who really helped us,” Sheriff’s Sgt. Bobby Phillips said. “He kept him there on the ground until we got there.”
  • January 8, 1995, Alva OK, The Review Courier — Things had turned ugly for Oklahoma Highway Patrol Officer Rick Wallace. He had found marijuana on a speeder, but was overpowered by the man before he could cuff him. Passerby Adolph Krejsek witnessed the altercation and came to the rescue, using his own firearm to help the trooper control the suspect. After helping subdue the assailant, Krejsek used the injured trooper’s radio to call for help.
  • January 22, 1994, Houston TX, The Post — In the finest tradition of armed citizens who take on crime in their communities, Texan Travis Neel helped save a wounded Harris County deputy sheriff’s life. Witnessing the shooting by one of a trio of Houston gang members after a traffic stop just west of Houston, Neel–who was on his way to his pistol range–pulled his gun and fired, driving the officer’s assailants away. An off-duty sheriff’s deputy also came on the scene and joined Neel in covering the deputy, whose life was saved by his body armor. The trio was captured after a manhunt.
  • May 22, 1993, Norwich CT, The Bulletin — While the situation ended without incident, armed citizen Michael Acree stood ready to lend a hand when a police officer stopped a carload of unruly teenagers outside his Salem, Connecticut, home. Noticing the youths scuffling with the officer, Acree retrieved his pistol and went out onto his lawn. When the youths saw Acree and his handgun, they calmed down and the situation ended peaceably. Acree earned the appreciation both of town officials and the officer.
  • April 10, 1992, Leesburg FL, The Daily Commercial — Vincent McCarthy wasn’t afraid to lend a hand when he noticed a police officer struggling with a man and woman at the side of the road. He tried to help subdue the man who was kicking the officer in the face. Despite McCarthy’s warnings, when the man pressed his assault, the tour boat captain shot him once in the leg with a pistol he is licensed to carry and stopped the attack. Neither the officer nor McCarthy were seriously injured.
  • July 4, 1991, Charlotte NC, The Observer, A North Myrtle Beach, N.C., citizen was credited by the city’s public safety director with possibly saving the life of Police Officer Richard Jernick. Jernick had pulled over a suspected bank robber’s car after a chase, when the suspect charged the cruiser and pointed a gun at the officer, who was still behind the wheel. At that point authorities said, the robbery suspect saw that James Beach, a semi-retired electrician who had joined the pursuit, had a pistol pointed at him. Startled, the robber ran for his car, and Officer Jernick was able to shoot and wound him.
  • February 4, 1990, Renton WA,  The Valley Daily News — The armed man who intended to rob a Renton, Wash., gunshop should have been forewarned by the police cruiser he had to walk past to enter the store, and the uniformed officer standing just inside the door. Belatedly noticing the policeman, the would-be robber began shooting at him. The officer and a store clerk armed with a semi-auto pistol returned fire, fatally wounding the man.
  • May 23, 1989, Minden LA, The Press-Herald — During a drug arrest in Webster Parish, La., a sheriff’s deputy and a state trooper found themselves struggling with their two suspects. But four citizens observed the battle and, armed with shotguns, they came to the officers’ aid–enabling them to make the arrests.
  • May 12, 1988, San Francisco CA, The Chronicle — Dave Storton, a San Jose, Calif., police officer, was doing off-duty security work at an apartment complex when two burglars knocked the officer down and attempted to grab his revolver. During the struggle, one of the assailants bit off part of Storton’s ear, but the two attackers were run off by an apartment resident who came to the rescue, armed with a shotgun.
  • June 7, 1988, Oklahoma City OK, The Daily Oklahoman — Miami, Okla., motel owner Oba Edwards witnessed two policemen struggling with a man they were attempting to arrest and saw the man wrest away one officer’s revolver, shoot and kill him. Edwards armed himself and fired a shot that allowed the remaining officer to recover his partner’s revolver and fatally wound the attacker. The dead man was on probation for assault of a Texas police officer.
  • October 27, 1983, Hagerstown MD, The Morning Herald — Police officer Chris Haldeman entered a Chambersburg, PA gold and silver exchange to arrest a suspect in a stolen property case, but the man resisted and a struggle ensued. The 220-lb. suspect had Haldeman pinned to the ground and was choking him when storekeeper Ken Cummings pulled his pistol and shot the officer’s attacker in the leg. The man, a known felon, managed to escape, and Det. Haldeman was treated at a local hospital and released.
  • December 5, 1982, Dallas TX, The Morning News — A stolen car bearing three escaped convicts was stopped on a Kansas highway by a state trooper. When the officer ordered the men from the vehicle, they sped away. With the trooper in pursuit, the escapees crashed in the town of Gorham; two were captured as they crawled free of the wreckage. The third convict attempted to flee on foot, only to be collared by several onlookers who had secured rifles from their pickups at the trooper’s call for assistance.
  • October 10, 1980, Corbin KY, The Times-Tribune — Corbin, Ky., motel operator Ray Miracle came upon state trooper James Phelps attempting to subdue two drunken occupants of a stopped auto and, carrying his revolver, went to the officer’s aid. At that point, another car stopped and one of two men inside levelled a gun on Trooper Phelps. Seeing Miracle’s drawn gun, however, they hastily drove off. Kentucky State Police rewarded Miracle with their highest civilian honor.
  • November 1, 1977, Houston TX, The Post — Ralph Festavan watched as a heroin peddler attacked a Shreveport, La., policeman and grabbed the officer’s gun. Festavan ran to the patrol car parked nearby and got a shotgun with which he shot and killed the pusher.
  • January 1, 1976, Rochester NY, The Times-Union — Dennis Koch was putting storm windows on his fiancee’s house when he observed a youth run into nearby woods. He passed the information on to a police officer who stopped by minutes later and told Koch he was searching for a burglary suspect. He gave Koch permission to assist him. Carrying his pistol, for which he has a permit, Koch found the youth hiding and held him in custody until the officer could place him under arrest.
  • November 1, 1975, Memphis TN, The Memphis Press-Scimitar — A Missouri state trooper had been shot three times by two armed robbery suspects when armed citizen Robert Riley of Tiptonville, Tenn., rushed to his aid. Riley fired a small caliber pistol at the assailants until they surrendered. The law officer was then rushed to a hospital.
  • May 1, 1961, Indianapolis IN, Associated Press — In Indianapolis 17-year-old Gerald Watson stood near a policeman who questioned a robbery suspect when the suspect’s accomplice appeared on the scene and shot the officer down. Watson, who had taught marksmanship at the YMCA, grabbed the fallen policeman’s service revolver and shot the felon dead.
  • Feruary 1, 1960,  Saraland AL, UPI — In Saraland, Ala., the berserk husband of a woman charged with possession of illegal whisky killed one police officer and wounded another but, as he tried to make his escape, was shot dead by Carlos McDonald, the proprietor of a nearby shop.
  • November 1, 1959, Eclectic AL, UPI — Two gunmen kidnapped an Eclectic, Ala., town policeman and used the officer to gain admittance to the home of Carl Ray Barker in the early morning hours. Barker, an Eclectic banker, was taken by one gunman into town to open the bank’s vault, his wife, child, and the town policeman being held hostage by the armed companion pending a safe return from the bank. When the time-vault resisted opening, the gunman returned Barker to his house and, after some debate, took the policeman away with him to get tape for binding all hostages until morning, when another attempt was to be made on the vault. Barker, now held in his home with wife and child by the second armed man, asked if he could make coffee. The robber assented and Barker put water on the stove and got it boiling. “I took the scalding water to the living room,” said Barker. “When he held his cup, I just poured the water in his face and grabbed his gun.” Barker pistol-whipped the robber into submission, loaded a shotgun and waited for the return of the other bandit. When the door opened, the captive policeman dived out of the way and Barker killed the would-be bank robber with two blasts. Barker said he feared for his family’s safety and, “I didn’t want my bank to get a bad name about being robbed.”
Nevertheless, no matter how regularly it actually happens, desk cops tell armed citizens never to help an officer in danger.

Street Cops: Yes, Please Help Whenever You Can

On the other hand, here is what patrol cops say. The following paragraphs were all written by law-enforcement officers who actually patrol the streets. They are taken from this Cop Talk thread.

  • I don’t know if there is a best and safest way, as you choose to get involved. If a cop is in a tangle on the ground with a perp and it doesn’t look good, In my mind a quick “I’m here to help” and a grab on the perp in essential areas (to me the neck) that would assist the officer in getting control of the situation. At that point I’ll would comply with commands from the officer to assist in securing the aggressor. — wrenj1
  • If the officer is down do whatever you need to in order to get the BG off of him. If he is struggling with a suspect, then ask very loudly “Officer do you need assistance?” if he says yes then by all means assist him in getting the person he is struggling with under control. — Dragoon44
  • Some time ago I was slamming down the highway on my Harley looking like a devoted Harley rider would appear to look like. And there on the side of the road was a trooper in a tussle, and not doing well, with a dude on a warrant who was intent on not going to jail. I came to a tire screeching halt and got in to the action, while the GF who was with me stood watching in a state of shock. There was not any time for formalities between myself and the trooper, the action was pretty hot at the moment but the trooper knew dam well I was there to help and it was in the nick of time. My other Harley brothers came upon the roadside excitement and stopped because of seeing me stopped. Then the trooper had about 6 other bad ass bikers as backups to assist in his action. Two of us were LEOs BTW, we were in a state outside of our home state but the trooper was just as glad we were there. — racer11
  • The easiest way to alert the officer you are there to help is a simple “Officer do you need help”. If I do you can bet I will ask for it. As for limitations, each state is different. In GA you must follow the standard laws for using force in defense of others which must be reasonable for the situation. For example if I am fighting you are clear to use any appropriate physical force. If I am wrestling to keep from getting stabbed you would be justified in deadly force. You are also given immunity criminally and civilly for your actions. — ray9898
  • I think the most important thing you can do is LOUDLY VERBALIZE your intentions. This can prevent a bad scene from getting a whole lot worse. God forbid the copper think you are one of the scroat’s buddies there to assist the scroat in delivering an ass-whooping. Then, follow through with maximum aggressiveness, and de-escalate once the officer has the suspect secured, and stick around to give a witness statement and accept the thanks of the officer. — MeefZah
  • If it’s really, really dire…just kick the bad guy in the face. We’ll know which team you’re on. — DaBigBR
  • If I’m getting my ass handed to me, announce your intentions and jump in. Here you immune from legal action and are also covered under the agency’s workman’s comp if you get hurt. — boomhower
  • It really doesn’t do any good to ask a cop if (s)he needs help in the middle if a fight. It’s obvious help is needed. There is also a good chance the cop won’t be able to answer. I think yelling at the BG to get off the cop does two things. It let’s the cop know you’re there to help, and gives the BG fair warning to stop. If he doesn’t stop, then he deserves the whipping that’s coming. — txleapd
  • VERBALIZE, VERBALIZE, VERBALIZE!! In the heat of the struggle while everyone is throwing elbows and rolling around, don’t be surprised if you and the cop accidently hit each other a time or two. Keep verbalizing to the bad guy and the cop and watch the hands. That goes for both the cop and the suspect as somebody may decide it’s time to let the lead fly and you don’t want to catch an extra round. If/ when other cops start arriving I would disengage from the struggle, keep my hands up, VERBALIZE, VERBALIZE, VERBALIZE and comply immediately with any directives issued to me by anyone in uniform. You may get cuffed and stuffed by late arriving officers who aren’t clear what’s going on. Be cool, let the situation get sorted out. All of this applies to me as well since I’m likely to be responding in plainclothes and my department has gotten big enough that I don’t know a lot of people and they don’t know me. — Dukeboy01
  •  We had a good fight at a bar a few months ago. Local boys got jumped when they took one to the ground. When I got there, there was a guy no one knew tossing people. He was tossing the right people, so we let him continue and the rest of us started tossing the other turds. Turns out, he was a popo in another State. — nikrret
  •  Yeah, if I’m actively engaged in getting my butt kicked, feel free to help! Thanks in advance! — Islander-11
  •   Unfortunately, too many people either won’t get involved or if they do, they dance around the edges accomplishing little or nothing but contributing to the pandemonium. If you’re going to do something, make it decisive. — EOD3
  •  If your assistance also involves drawing your firearm, just plan on being proned-out, cuffed, and put in the cage by responding uniforms until they get everything sorted out. Same goes for off-duty, plain-clothes officers. — Panzergrnadier1979
  •  Just make sure its unmistakable that you’re the good guy who’s here to help. — steveksux

Conclusion

The first mismatch is easy to explain. The second is puzzling.

First, desk cops claim that armed citizens never assist police. In fact, armed citizens routinely help police, even save their lives. This wish-versus-reality mismatch is easy to explain. Statists want the state to be supreme and the citizenry to be docile and subservient, so they delude themselves into believing that their wish is reality.

Second, desk cops order armed citizens not to help police. In fact, street cops in trouble appreciate all the help they can get. This desk-versus-street mismatch is harder to explain. I offer an analogy.

A chain-store risk-management executive once explained to me why their policy is to fire any employee who defends the store against armed robbers. If the employee defends himself or herself, the company risks a multi-million dollar lawsuit from the perp’s relatives and horrific publicity from “racial” agitators. If the clerk simply submits and dies quietly, the company’s expense is a few dollars worth of merchandise and the trivial cost of repainting store walls to cover the bloodstains. Perhaps a similar explanation applies to the police. Perhaps some police agencies worry more about being sued than about their officers being killed. And so, administrators concoct reasons why armed citizens should never help police officers.

Unsurprisingly, patrol officers whose lives have been saved by armed citizens, or who know a brother LEO whose life was saved have a different viewpoint.

Next Time: Should You Carry With a Round in the Chamber?


NRAlogo

Frank W. Sweet is an NRA-certified firearms instructor who teaches the safe and effective use of handguns for self-defense. He was awarded an M.A. in Civil War Studies in military history from American Military University in 2001. He is the author of Legal History of the Color Line (ISBN 9780939479238), Six Gems of Forgotten Civil War History (ISBN 9780939479023), and of numerous published historical essays. To receive a schedule of his firearms training courses, email to fwsweet@ccwvslaw.org. The information above should not be construed as legal advice.


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