The standard for legal justification of deadly force is the same for police and civilians, but it is interpreted and applied differently. Therefore, following the law and exercising your rights must include adherence to the application of the law and the procedures or scrutiny if deadly force is used by you or against you, whether civilian or law enforcement.
The standard default declaration is to proclaim being in fear for your life. It has no meaning but is generally understood to mean something that is subjective but not specific to the situation. You only think you know what it means but it has a different meaning to everyone projected upon and applied to a situation. It is vague and supports a spectrum of fear levels based solely on fearful anxiety.
The time when that is acceptable as the primary justification for using deadly force has passed and defies objective reasoning or quantification. Thus, fear should no longer be sufficient or a factor for using deadly force. Instead, the actual circumstances should constitute a code red threat or tactical disadvantage creating an imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death, not to gain compliance or quell any fear.
Being in fear for your life is very subjective. It can primarily reflect your psychological frailty instead of the actual circumstance you are in or confronted with actually being a serious bodily harm threat. Specific physical and mental allowances must be made for a variance of vulnerabilities, the prevailing circumstances confronted with, and the objectively reasonable response. Still, an actionable threat must be the primary reason for any legal lethal force response.
Realizing that most civilians have uncertainty regarding when deadly force is appropriate and required lends itself to a tendency to erroneously use deadly force based solely on fear, not the threat. Sometimes law enforcement being unaccustomed to high risk or confronted with unfamiliar situations, can react with certainty but erroneously or prematurely from fear or anger, not the threat. Force must be reasonable and unavoidable, and prudent in its exercise where your actions did not create or escalate the threat.
When deadly force is used, the standard for reasonableness, even when justified, requires it must remain within that which is not excessive. The standard applied by law for both civilian and law enforcement is to use the minimal force necessary to neutralize a threat based upon the known or reasonably perceived circumstances at that time but not to your level of fear.
Your perception is formed by the actual events or circumstances existing at that time and the threat’s ability to carry them out, resulting in serious bodily harm to you. According to the law, it is explicitly forbidden to use deadly force to protect property regardless of the value of that property. Deadly force is only supported as a counter to serious bodily harm.
The subjective factors that influence deadly force use are age, size, gender, physical limitations, specific previous victimization, etc. The list is long, but the actual justification must be supported and based on specific factors justifying the action to be warranted and always from a defensive perspective.
These many considerations are supporting factors of articulation but not justification for deadly force. The harmful threatening act is the only primary justification that can be legally considered. The rest is just supporting elements of that action or threat. The perception of a serious bodily harm threat must also be of the nature to be carried out at the time of your reaction.
You must have the fundamental knowledge of what perceptions of a threat you were responding to, why you reacted that way, and whether you can legally respond that way with a force that will likely cause serious physical harm or death. It must be a reaction to their actions supported by a reasonable response to a specific pending or imminent articulated threat.
Being in fear should not be the emotional state you are in; instead, the apprehensive projection of the threat if allowed to progress to a reasonable conclusion. You cannot instigate or agitate a confrontation and claim to be in fear of the situation you created. It would be best if you remained near blameless in your contribution to the circumstances causing the conflict.
For example, a vehicle moves forward and backward, not sideways. If law enforcement knows this places themselves in the forward or reverse path of a vehicle without escape options, they have essentially created their own danger. Therefore, deadly force should not be used. Instead, better judgment should.
Everything articulated should be their actions and your response. You must only do what someone’s actions force you to do. Reacting for your safety must be warranted and justified by your right not to submit yourself to the discretion of whatever misfortune, harm, or criminal intent that may be forced upon you.
If placing yourself in harm’s way and then the assumed harm is attempted, then by default, you ultimately initiated that attempt. If it was expected to possibly occur, knowing the risk and danger, you actually allowed it to happen by your actions.
Deadly force must always be reactionary to a threat unforeseen or unavoidable. Knowing the standards under which you will be judged, feeling confident in your response, and committing yourself to restraint as necessary increases your advantage of legally responding to a deadly threat with little hesitation and minimal scrutiny.
Understand that fear is where your concerns and insecurities overcome your confidence and commitment. What may weaken your resolve to resist or survive is strictly subjective to your fear of inadequacy and not a response to the actual threat. Reacting to the actual threat is responding to the resolution of the threat and not the resolution of your fear. Under this perspective, fear has no place in the equation for consideration of your actions.
There is a distinct difference between a response for your life or being scared and frightened. Fear is from within; it is something that you choose to accept and project. Fear is closely related to your level of preparation, familiarity, comfortability, and any unfavorable circumstances present. When these levels are low, your anxiety is high, so fear is more of a reflection of your personal state of mind than the threat confronted with, even when lethal action is necessary and unavoidable.
Anger is fear projected outwardly, and fear is anger projected inwardly upon yourself. No one can account for your or another’s fear, biases, or insecurities. No one should have to account for why you or anyone is afraid of the dark or an impending danger that does not exist outside your mind.
Fear is often a stereotypical or conjured projection causing an irrational override of reality. So, fear must be removed as the primary criterion for using deadly force. Fear is an admission and display of irrational behavior and most likely an indictment of your confidence.
Legal justification is the principal standard and level of responsibility that anyone carrying a firearm consent to by carrying that firearm and definitely by using deadly force. Insinuated by implication and association are also all bullets fired being accountable to the shooter. It has nothing to do with the shooter. Instead, the person getting shot to provoke and justify that action of being shot.
What did they do to get shot that was a reaction to and material reflection of their behavior? From the shooter’s perspective, they did this, and I reacted as such. Not, I did this due to my fear of unwarranted anticipation of an unobserved action or being absent of any overt indication of danger. Much like chess, only one move is made then the opponent must make a move until checkmated. Your move is executed only after the opponent has made their move which you then counter or prevent.
When deadly force is used, there is a legal responsibility to stop when it is no longer necessary, even if initially justified. As the threat level changes, force adjustments must change, adhering to minimal force necessary to discontinue the threat. Excessive force occurs when the adjustment is not made or justified in the beginning. That standard applies to less than deadly force as well. Passive resistance is not a justification for deadly force.
The standard criteria already legally established for deadly force should be firmly applied and enforced with violations fully prosecuted to discourage the motivation and occurrences of its violation by civilians and law enforcement. Law enforcement and vigilantism must especially be scrutinized to diminish violations of publicly accepted legal expectations and legally established statutes.
Even cowboys recognized in the wild west that shooting someone in the back or from behind was inherently wrong because it was cowardly and suspect of the threat they posed with their back towards you or running away.
Multiple gunshots to the back should be assumed murder absent some extraordinary circumstances and articulation to justify the nearly indefensible. Possessing a gun that is not in a position to be used most certainly falls under the same reprehensible cowardly actions since it is legal in most places to possess a firearm.
In the use of deadly force, there needs to be fully transparent investigations and personal accountability according to the governing state and federal laws, police department general police orders of operation, the departmental expectation of conduct and tactics, and civilian or officer-initiated encounters. In addition, civilians should be vigorously held to the same factually based reactions rejecting their reckless behavior, frivolous encounters, and fear of situations they created or had no legal standing to enforce instead of an imaginary justification of fear.
Being comfortable in situations requires mental preparation to visualize likely scenarios prior to encountering them. Lack of knowledge and preparation manifests itself in panic and fear, which is prone to overreaction. Memory retention and muscle memory are then trained by conditioning them where your only concern is logically and methodically dealing with the threat or circumstances without panic.
Proficiency in your craft, whatever it is, breeds confidence, even if it is baking a cake. Target acquisition is the next issue of paramount importance. You must be sure before firing what you are shooting at, why you are shooting at it, with what you are using to shoot at it, can you strike the intended target, and how many times is reasonable to fire to eliminate the threat but not necessarily the person.
You should not just unload on someone out of fear without articulating why it was necessary. At this point, it becomes suppressive fire without a confirmed target or justified circumstances. Controlling your anxiety avoids reckless behavior and unreasonable actions which are regrettable or debatable.
Recent news examples that illustrate the lack of these principles are the Breonna Taylor, Jacob Black, and Duante Wright shootings. In the Taylor case, the lack of target acquisition and discipline under stress laying down suppressive fire. The Black case poor tactics and poor suspect control to prevent him from moving contrary to risk aversion.
Mainly seven shots to the back being excessive to repel the perceived knife threat, which had not yet become direct. The Wright case where panic and overreaction mentally short-circuited the motor skills and muscle memory familiarity to perform an act your body knew was wrong but that your mind overruled to grab the wrong weapon.
You can train for stress, but only stress simulates stress and fear is always present with the uncertain where you feel unprepared, even taking an exam or a critical event. Still, fear must be processed and redirected to heighten the ability not to immobilize it. The first consideration is always to minimize risk to yourself by your tactics to maneuver to minimize danger.
You must be proactive to predict, eliminate, prevent, or minimize the risk, escalation, or damage you must do to someone by limiting their opportunity to harm you before deadly force has to be used. You cannot account for other’s actions but are responsible for your tactics and actions, so control what you can control, yourself.
Excessive force and deadly force must be responsive to the deafening outrage and continued advancement of transparency and accountability regardless of who the violators are. The public now demands it, and the law requires it to be applied equally without prejudice or reservation, thereby minimizing the fear that others have for their life in these encounters.
The police must now also police themselves to raise their shared duty of accountability to these known standards and restore public trust to the previous levels enjoyed and beyond. Ongoing training should reflect this, and violations should be exposed to protect the integrity of the uniform and profession to establish a law enforcement culture in line with the changing times and respect for life. Civilians must adhere to a standard of conduct that does not initiate or invite deadly force to stay out of the gray zone subjecting themselves to fear.
Remember to eliminate fear; you can practice until you don’t make a mistake but can also practice until you can’t make a mistake to be genuinely proficient and eliminate fear. It is about taking life seriously to invest the time and resources into training yourself lessening fear and promoting better judgment when carrying a firearm.
Taken from my forthcoming book, the Pointman.
Thurston K. Atlas
Creating A Buzz