Armed at Home: Strategic Realities
An Interview with Massad Ayoob
Interview by Gila Hayes
Live in a bad neighborhood? Been subjected to threats of violence? Does the nightly news have you worried about home invasions? These and many other reasons may lead the armed citizen to think that answering the door with a gun in hand is the best solution to an unexpected knock on the door late a night. Network Advisory Board member Massad Ayoob says, “Don’t do that!” That may seem counter-intuitive until one probes deeper into issues identified through Ayoob’s depth of experience and training, as well as the strong legal-concerns viewpoint he brings to his use of force classes. Ayoob is trainer of international reputation, court recognized expert witness on use of force matters, and author of over 20 books, plus countless magazine articles and recorded lectures.
In the following interview, Ayoob details court cases stemming from armed citizens going to the door with a gun in hand to respond to an unexpected knock or to investigate suspicious noises outside the door. We switch now to our Q & A format to preserve the clarity of Ayoob’s observations.
eJournal: I was a little surprised when this topic came up, Mas, because on the surface, it is pretty easy to understand one who is not a deep thinker subscribing to the idea of a gun in the hand when opening the door as a reasonable response to crime. What cases support your advice to certainly be armed and ready, but keep your hands empty?
Ayoob: We had one in 2012 in Lake County, FL. The police officers are looking for a very dangerous suspect and knocked on this fellow’s door. He is aware, apparently, that there is a manhunt underway for said dangerous subject and he opens the door with a gun in his hand. The deputies perceived the gun pointed at them, and they drew their weapons, opened fire and killed him. That would have been July of 2012 in Lake County, FL.
I was consulted on one many years ago, in the Pacific Northwest. The consulting attorney was a plaintiff’s lawyer. He wanted me to speak for his client who had gotten drunk with his girlfriend, and as he pointed out, “He was in his own home: he has every right to get drunk with his girlfriend.”
And he and the girlfriend are arguing loudly, and as the attorney said, “A man’s home is his castle, and you have every right to argue loudly.” I would not argue that, either. The neighbors also had a right to call the police. The police come knocking on the door. The guy flings the door open with his .38 and as the attorney said, “By God, a man hears an unexpected knock on his door, he has got a right to arm himself!” By and large, I would have said, “Yes!”
He opens the door with the gun pointing right at the officers, and they drew their Glocks and shot him. The guy was damn lucky to survive the shooting. I said, “Sir, I can’t help you! If I was the cop in that situation and the person opened the door with a gun in his hand, I would have thought I was in deadly danger and I would have shot, too.”
So, the bottom line is, first, in this day and age, if I were to answer the door to the proverbial unexpected knock at 3 o’clock in the morning, I would not answer the door without a gun, either. I would also have it where someone on the other side of the door could not see it until I felt a need to show it to them. As I have told my students for many years, the single person most likely to knock on your door at 3 in the morning is the police coming to tell you that at 2 in the morning they recovered your stolen car that you didn’t even know was missing because it was stolen out of your driveway at 1 and you went to bed at 12. The officers open the door, and they see a gun pointed in their direction, and what the hell are they supposed to think about it. If your son or daughter were that police officer, what would you expect them to do?
It seems to be a recurring problem. There was a case in New Jersey a few years ago in which a young millennial guy who lives at home with his family hears a noise outside, looks and sees people with flashlights moving around the cars in the driveway. He doesn’t want to wake Mom and Dad so he grabs his Benelli 12 ga. pump, flings open the door, and will say later, “I racked the shotgun to scare them.”
He succeeded in that. He scared every single one of those police officers in his driveway that were looking for a burglary suspect they had been chasing. At least one of those officers perceived the barrel of the shotgun to be pointed in his direction. Miraculously, the young man was not shot. He actually was arrested for felony aggravated assault on a police officer, went through a year-long legal nightmare and I have to say, the kid was damned lucky, he had a sympathetic jury that acquitted him.
The bottom line is, we have got to tell ourselves first, in this day and age, why are we opening the door for an unknown person at 3 o’clock in the morning at all?
eJournal: So these tactics went off the rails long before the gun came into the equation?
Ayoob: Exactly! In each of these cases, the gun in the hand was just the last really bad card in a hand full of bad tactical cards. If nothing else, initiate a verbal conversation about who is at the door. Now, when I started in this business, you had to be as rich as Bloomberg to have intercoms, let alone closed circuit TV. For God’s sake, that technology now is so cheap you can buy it on Woot! for less than some of us spend on our daily ammo bill at the gun shop. There is no reason not to be able to know who is there before that door opens, and not be in a threatening position.
There was another case recently also in FL, in Manatee County, within the past week. An elderly gentleman opens the door to the unexpected knock, opens fire and ends up killing a woman who is sitting in a car at the curb. She was a neighbor lady and there were two people with her knocking at the door–her daughter I believe and her brother-in-law–who wanted to ask if he had seen a lost dog.
For whatever reason, this guy opens fire, kills the woman out in the car. He is an elderly gentleman, very elderly, and that may or may not have played a factor in it.
The bottom line is, little good happens when people open up that door. If you are going to open the door, have the gun where it is not visible. I, personally, am an advocate of home carry. I put my gun on in the morning when I put my pants on and I take it off and put it by the bed when I undress for bed at night. If walking around the house at night with a gun on your hip is uncomfortable or not part of “Life with Father,” a J-frame or a LCP in your pocket is something to consider.
The hand on the gun in the pocket is not an immediately threat. Your body gun-side edged away from door as it opens and the hand behind the back is not an immediate threat. I would not recommend having gun in hand and hidden behind back, because if you open the door and it is the police, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to say, “Hi, there! I have a gun in my hand!” and then you will be looking down the muzzles of theirs?
Hand on holstered weapon, or if nothing else, scoop up the pistol and put it in your waistband, but make sure the pistol you keep to scoop up is one that you can safely put in the waistband. Every single manufacturer of striker-fired pistols will tell you do not put this gun anyplace where there is not a holster, including pocket or waistband.
A cocked and locked 1911 with the thumb on the hammer and the safety engaged, a double action
revolver, or a double action auto hammer-fired with the thumb holding the hammer down is reasonably safe under those circumstances. Then, your first words can be, “Oh, good evening, officers. Can I help you?” There is no sudden movement; there is no dropped gun, and as they say at Holiday Inn, the best surprise is no surprise!”
eJournal: This strategy puts us firmly into pistol-land. The case I originally read about involved a man who picked up a shotgun he had ready by the couch. I believe the police officers at the door saw him pick it up and approach the door with it. The jury eventually gave him a pass on it, but no one wants to go through the year of legal entanglements he did or risk being shot by police if it doesn’t go well. So long guns make it even harder if you must go to the door.
Ayoob: Unless you are on your own remote farm and you hear the coyote howling outside and it has been eating the rabbits out of the hutch. That is one thing. Stepping outside the door in a suburban area after hearing someone screaming outside, well, any of us, especially if we live somewhere where we know that police response time might take a while, are going to have that urge to go out and protect. You step out with the 870 or the AR in your hand until you find out that the screaming is the neighbor’s ten-year-old niece and nephew who are visiting and it is a Friday night so they are allowed to stay up late. They see you with a long gun and call in and say, “Oh, my God! My crazy neighbor was going to murder my children with an evil assault weapon,” y’all are going to have a downhill fight with the authorities there.
If you feel you must step out of the house, the concealed handgun prevents that sort of misunderstanding from happening. Remember, if it is some kind of an emergency the responding officers may, as in one of the cases that I mentioned, be in plain clothes. Just because they don’t look like the recruiting poster from the local police department, does not mean they are not police!
I tell my students, yes, your home is your castle, but that does not mean that you are allowed to have an execution chamber in it.
eJournal: I see several lessons in the case of the young man with the Benelli standing in the doorway. First, you had better understand your state law as regards what our attorney friends might call curtilage, and what you are allowed to do beyond the front door of your domicile if your state law says, “You are allowed to use deadly force against an intruder up to this line, but not beyond.”
Besides, I think each Network member must do something more elemental, and that is draw a line or set the triggering point at which resorting to deadly force is the reasonable step, and before that you do not draw or show the gun. What will I use deadly force to defend; what is less important? What kinds of actions prompt my decision to bring out the gun?
Ayoob: You have to have a thorough knowledge of when can I take someone at gun point vs. when can I shoot them. You have got to know what the formulas are. You are going to be judged by the formulas. There is literally an infinity of possibilities, and we have to tailor our actions the way the court will judge them and the court will judge by those formulae that I teach and that Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network teaches, essentially is:
Ability: The opponent has the power to kill or cripple,
Opportunity: They are capable of immediately employing it, and –
Jeopardy: It is obvious to any reasonable and prudent person that they have an immediate or manifested intent to do so.
All that is going to be seen by the courts as it must be seen by us, the practitioners, through the lens of the reasonable person doctrine: “What would a reasonable and prudent person have done in that same situation, knowing what that defender knew?”
eJournal: The third leg of that triad–does jeopardy exist?–is such a key element and to go to the illustrative case you mentioned of the young man racking the shotgun in his front door, one has to ask, “What was the threat at that point? What jeopardy could he cite from some people looking around the family’s parked cars?
Ayoob: He thought they were people stealing the cars, and he said he wanted to scare them away. One of those bad cards that you want to throw away if you are dealt it, is “Gee, I use my gun to scare people.”
The irony is, if you study these things as you and I have the overwhelming majority of defensive gun usages do end as soon as the bad guy sees that the good guy is armed and ready to use it. The irony is that it only seems to work when the person wielding the gun makes it clear to the opponent, “This is the case: I’m not the guy who goes into the gun shop and says, ‘Hey, can I get a gun with rubber bullets because I don’t really want to hurt anybody.’” They are not scared of your gun! They are scared of you.
My definition of a predator, among others, is expert in prey selection. They may not use terms like “body language,” but they are very fluent in it. It is literally what they do. I’ve found the bottom line is that if you know, “I know where the lines are. If this guy crosses that line to harm me and my children, I am going to shoot him down,” he will generally pick up on that. If he doesn’t, well, that may be the day that you become the exception to the rule, and you shoot him.
Getting back to the gun in the doorway, one thing I’ve been seeing for a quarter century or more, is that judges and juries alike are very forgiving of defense of the invasion of the home. But you step out that door, no matter what the state statutes say about curtilage, the jury sees that as you were not defending the castle, you lowered the drawbridge and went marching out on a crusade. You went looking for trouble.
“Looking for trouble!” You will hear that phrase come up from opening argument to closing argument to every press conference by prosecutor and the plaintiff. “He went looking for trouble…He was safe where he was, but no, he had to go out and play hero. He had to play vigilante. He had to slake his bloodlust.” Pick one. We see that all the way back to the early 1990s in Baton Rouge, in Louisiana v. Rodney Peairs.
Peairs was the young man who shot and killed the young Japanese exchange student. Because of the bizarre confluence of circumstances that led to that, he was acquitted on the manslaughter charge. There absolutely was reasonable doubt as to whether it was reckless or not. In the civil case, Hattori v. Peairs, brought by the family of the deceased, he was absolutely hammered in civil court.
Now, Peairs and his attorneys appealed that. If our readers care to look it up at http://www.leagle.com/decision/19951171662So2d509_1981/HATTORI%20v.%20PEAIRS they’ll see in its opinion sustaining the verdict against Peairs, the court of appeals said, look, if this man had simply kept the door closed and stayed inside that young man would be alive and none of this would have happened. Peairs and his family were in no danger. He chose to open that door, step out and start the confrontation. I’m speaking here from memory, those are not the exact words but that most certainly is the gist of the decision. We have seen that again and again with judges and juries.
Once you open that door, if you step out, you are viewed as having gone looking for trouble.
eJournal: That is a sobering lesson. There is more to this than expected and we’ve covered more points than I’d anticipated. Can you summarize it in closing?
Ayoob: Plan A: Don’t open the door unless you absolutely have to–unless you absolutely have no other choice.
Plan B: if you do have to open the door, I would certainly have the gun ready and I don’t blame you if you do, too, but I would want it to be a handgun. I would want it to be discretely concealed so it would not be visible yet be instantly accessible to me if I needed it.
A final thought on the recommendation to install closed circuit TV or at the very least an intercom. The kinds of folks who belong to the Network have thought this out. They are practical people. If they lived in fantasyland, they would have spent their Network membership dues on another box of ammo or an entry fee to a shooting match.
Every damn one of us has someone in our family who thinks the world is moonbeams and butterflies, and “No one would ever want to hurt me, and you are paranoid to have those guns!” When that person is alone in the house, that person is the one who is going to open the door and find out it is the big, bad wolf. And that is the one whose life you are going to save if you install that closed circuit camera and that intercom. It may actually be more important in likelihood and frequency of exposure than the tactical advantage it gives to the serious kind of practitioner who belongs to the Network.
eJournal: Once again, you’ve given us much to think about and some practical steps we can take. Thank you, Massad, for the very positive influence you’ve had on us.
Our Advisory Board member, Massad Ayoob, is one of the pre-eminent fighting handgun trainers in the world. He is directly responsible for training thousands in justifiable use of deadly force, safe gun use and effective defense techniques. Visit his website at http://massadayoobgroup.com/schedule/ to learn more about his classes.
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