The Wrong Question

by Gila Hayes

Think about how we phrase questions. Often, questions contain the seed (and sometimes the entire root and branch) of the answer desired or are couched in terms so far from reasonable as to elicit little more than, “No!” as an answer. I’d suggest that it is a lot more productive to pose questions that leave the respondent open to explore his or her knowledge and apply it to the subject under discussion.

Recently, questions on internet discussions about shooting to avoid intentional exposure to coronavirus, a handful of which percolated into Network members’ queries, missed the point of self defense entirely. Following reports from Missouri, North Dakota and New Jersey of arrests for intentionally coughing on another person to frighten them about contracting the disease, a variation on the question soon began circulating amongst armed citizens that asked: “Can I shoot to avoid being coughed on or spat upon by someone claiming to be infected with the corona virus?”

My hackles go up anytime a question starts with, “Can I shoot someone if…” As instructors far wiser than I have stressed for decades, if you’re exploring when use of deadly force is appropriate, the right question is, “What can I do to avoid having to shoot him or her?”

In today’s fear-ridden atmosphere, with the media relentlessly focused on COVID-19, folks are genuinely seeking ways to avoid exposure. Armed citizens are being side-tracked into exploring whether they can use deadly force against the possibility of malicious infection. Unfortunately, considering deadly force as an option interrupted idea sharing for better ways to react while in a public space with a malicious person intent on frightening those around him or her. More productive questions might instead have asked, “What are good, situationally-applicable safeguards and intermediate force options I should keep at hand to prevent someone from intentionally exposing me to the virus?

If the question starts with, “Can I do it, can I, can I, please?” it ignores the vital skill of avoidance, it blocks our receptiveness to the many, many good options that exist before shooting becomes justifiable and it obscures the fact that we only shoot if that’s the one remaining option to avoid an innocent person’s immediate death or crippling injury. When the idea of shooting to stop a threat is the first and foremost option under consideration, we forget the famous and surprisingly effective tactic: “Run away! Run away!” or if your risk profile is so extreme, do not go there at all!

The problem in even considering deadly force as your primary defense against intentional sneezing, coughing or spitting, as this month’s attorney commentaries ably explained, is that threat of infection does not rise to an immediate, unavoidable danger of death or grave physical injury, so deadly force isn’t a reasonable option. Ask any law enforcement professional about spitters and worse, and you’ll be told nasty stories you wish you’d never heard, but you’ll also learn that intentionally exposing others to infected bodily fluids is not a new problem; you’ll also rather quickly learn that shooting has never been an accepted solution.

There are quite a few better responses. If you’re going into populated areas where encountering spitters, intentional sneezers or malicious coughers is a possibility, before leaving home, cover your nose and mouth and pull on a brimmed cap and glasses, don disposable gloves, and wear garments that can go directly into the washing machine on the sanitize cycle if you are coughed on or spat upon.

Instead of thinking first about responding with deadly force if specifically threatened with exposure, make distance (yes, you may have to sacrifice your place in a long queue), get behind an obstacle and order the person to stay back. If you’re not sure of someone’s intentions or you’re worried about being crowded by someone with a bad cough, how about an order masquerading as a polite request along the lines of, “Could you step back, please? I need a little more space here. I’m sure you understand.” In wide-open spaces, if verbal commands fail, be prepared to lay down a fog of pepper spray while you sidestep and get away. That just scratches the surface of options, but really, folks, this is the kind of problem solving called for by the situation.

Personal safety, even during a pandemic, depends upon a thousand precautions and safety measures, and in those myriad measures, there is only a very small, miniscule, albeit vital role for your firearms in securing your safety.

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.