Saturday, January 17, 2009

Defensive Shooting in Atlanta - Robber Killed

Right on the front page of CNN today, this fascinating video appeared describing what happened in Atlanta the other night. I believe if I failed to post about this one my entire comments section would go into revolt. That's a joke. The truth is this is an extremely rare story, as anyone who reads CNN every day will tell you. The question we never satisfactorily resolved is "why?"

The AJC site has the story. After some dancing in the Graveyard Tavern, a popular East Atlanta night spot, a couple returned to their vehicle parked nearby. A man approached the passenger-side window. Atlanta police Detective Michael Willis describes the action.

Believing the man was going to beg for money, the passenger rolled down his window a few inches, Willis said. But he had a strange feeling about the man, so he grabbed his gun from the glove box and put it on his lap, Willis said.

He asked the stranger what he wanted, and noticed the man was reaching for his waistband or pockets, the detective said. Instinctively, the passenger shoved open his door, knocking the suspected robber back a few feet, Willis said. The woman started screaming.

The man got out of the truck and the suspected robber raised a weapon at him, Willis said. “When he saw that, he just started shooting,” the detective said.

The man shot the suspected robber five or six times, in the stomach and chest, Willis said. The robber did not fire any shots.

“He just got the jump on him,” Willis said of the victim. “He told me he fired until the guy was no longer a threat to him.”

This story bothers me a little bit. Mainly, why did it take five or six shots, all in the torso of the would-be robber? I would imagine the bumbling thief was no longer a threat after the second or third round. Officer Willis seems a bit quick to defend the shooter. Aren't the police supposed to be more suspicious than that?

But, assuming it happened exactly like that, I must admit it makes a beautiful argument for carrying a gun. I'm afraid it's a big assumption, though that it happened exactly like that. There must be cases among these defensive shootings in which it was really capital punishment meted out by a single citizen. One good guy killing one bad guy. If the bad guy was doing something bad, if he had a gun, the good guy easily gets away with it. The police help because it makes their job easier.

What do you think? Did this sound like a justified shooting to you?

Let's say the robber really did threaten to shoot the couple by raising a gun, and the man shot him in justified self defense, but kept shooting three or four times after the threat ended. Adrenalin was pumping, it happened fast. How bad is that? I say not so bad. It shouldn't even require the statement that "he fired until the guy was no longer a threat to him." The only question is was it justified to fire the first time. If the robber raised a gun, then yes it was justified.

Why is it that the main stream press so rarely runs a story like this? I'll bet it gets plenty of clicks. I don't think it's because these defensive gun stories aren't "sexy" enough. I say it's because they happen much less frequently then the violent, misuse-of-guns stories. That's why. Then when you remove all the defensive gun stories that are really murder, good guy killing bad guy, what's left? Not nearly as much as some people say.

What's your opinion? Do you think CNN has an axe to grind against the gun folks and for that reason suppresses these stories? That's been suggested around here, but I find it unconvincing.

What do you think?


  1. Mike,

    Thanks for posting a defensive gun use story, but your bias is showing. You doubt this story but have no doubts about Lillo being an unaware accessory to murder.

    That said, let's discuss what you asked.

    First, I think the guy exhibited excellent sense and awareness. He was aware of the approach, aware that something didn't feel right but took no aggressive action.

    Note that only when the criminal continued on his plan, reaching into his waistband or pocket did the victim react. And again, the reaction was minimal....opening the door to get the criminal back and visible.

    Only when a weapon was raised, not just seen, but raised at the victim did he fire.

    This is what the law allows, stopping a crime while it is happening.

    Now, as to why he fired so many times. Remember the Perry Stephens story from a couple of days ago? That person took at least 8 rounds before the head shot killed him. We are taught to fire until the person stops being a threat.

    Weren't you taught the same thing as a Marine, fire until there is no threat?

    Second, I imagine the police are more suspicious, but the evidence probably corroborates the story. Probably have other witnesses, certainly that area isn't unknown for it's crime. One of the people in the CNN video mentioned an armed robbery the week prior, her friend mentioned a bartender who had been shot. So, it is very likely it went down exactly as the victim said.

    Mike, this next question or statement is where I accuse you of bias.
    I'm afraid it's a big assumption, though that it happened exactly like that.

    You didn't seem to doubt that Lillo wasn't aware his accomplice was armed, but you doubt this occurred as described. Giving the criminals the benefit of doubt, but not the victims...amazing.

    There must be cases among these defensive shootings in which it was really capital punishment meted out by a single citizen. One good guy killing one bad guy. If the bad guy was doing something bad, if he had a gun, the good guy easily gets away with it.

    I think you need to study what the law is and what it says Mike.
    When someone is committing a crime, that isn't capital punishment, it is perfectly legal, morally and ethically valid to use lethal force to stop that crime. That is the chance the criminal takes. Capital punishment is the consequence prescribed by the government for being convicted of a crime.

    Are you telling me if someone was about to rape your wife, murder your kids that you wouldn't use lethal force to stop that?
    Would it be a case of you "easily getting away with it"?

    I agree that if it happened that way, the victim was justified in firing. If, and this is a big if, the victim was justified in firing once, then he was justified in firing multiple times.

    The average number of shots fired in a self defense case is 3 to 5. This isn't out of line with that, so I don't see it as a case of over reaction.

    I say it's because they happen much less frequently then the violent, misuse-of-guns stories. That's why.

    Mike, the reason you don't hear of more of this stories is twofold. First, media bias against firearms. Clayton Cramer's Self Defense blog will show you that it happens more then you think.

    Second, this case is a very rare case in that the defensive use resulted in a death. Most simply don't get that far because the criminal stops at earlier stages.
    Many are stopped at the awareness, crooks look for the unaware. Being spotted on approach, actions taken to open distance after being spotted shows awareness, the crooks pick easy victims.

    The next step is the presentation of a defensive firearm. Check out the videos, the stories of the victims showing their own weapon and the criminal running off. No shots fired, no deaths but crime stopped.

    The penultimate step is shots fired but no deaths. Mostly criminal is hit or scared off but not killed. Modern medicine is great and saves many lives...but the media bias doesn't want people knowing they can stop crime. Just about every story includes the police admonishment to "let the professionals handle it".

    The final stage is the only one many gun banners recognizes as a "defensive gun use", as in this case a fatality. It just isn't necessary for must DGU to end with a death.

    But crimes stopped without gun fire isn't sexy, so it doesn't get covered.

    I challenge you to look at the stories in the media about concealed carry, about defensive gun uses, about the 2nd amendment. Watch how the words are used, bet you see "packing heat" "strapped on a gun" "wild west" "took the law into her/his own hands". All of them loaded to give the impression of an out of control or barely in control armed citizen.

    Great post Mike, let's see more of these.

    Nieghborhood watch wants to see no one killed.

  2. Wow, Mike, you posted some good ones while the Mrs. and I were on our morning errands, and I was stuck reading them on my phone that won't let me log into Blogger!

    As usual Bob, who appears to be my intellectual twin on many of these political issues (There are many more too, Hopefully more of us can come forward and fix this fucked up political system we're in)

    I'll try my best to dovetail some of my observations with his. First up a GREAT question, you asked:
    "What's your opinion? Do you think CNN has an axe to grind against the gun folks and for that reason suppresses these stories?"

    You know how I feel, but instead I'll answer your question with another question: Why is it that the multitude of defensive gun stories that are posted in the comments here, or in our respective blogs, or blogs we mutually read never get picked up by CNN?

    Clayton Cramer has done an amazing job at compiling local self-defense stories on one of his blogs:

    I question how closely you've looked at it. I DO know one story you DID read:

    I know Cramer picked up the story (took about a week but he did) but other than that this story never made it outside of New England.

    Obviously this really happened, and there's a body in the Morgue, and the shop keeper was not charged with murder dispite this being one of the most unfriendly states in the Union for lawful gun owners, the store owner has not been charged with a crime.

    Just another thought to ponder, there was a big apartment building fire a few weeks ago. No life lost, but several families were left homeless. This story wasn't picked up either...but that plane splashing down in the Hudson was.

    Why? Well planes going down are supere-rare. House fires and defensive shootings are super-common, national news just wants stories that are unique and interesting.

    So why this story? Well first the fact that nobody could get anybody to demonize the shooter probably didn't hurt. But the big thing was probably the number of shots fired.

    To add to what Bob said, many shots are fired when shots are exchanged on average. I won't get too geeky on you but there is a VERY controversial study that was done to attempt to judge effectiveness of certain pistol rounds. For info google "One shot stop".

    It's controversial because it didn't take wound ballistics into effect (did the guy take a shot in the hand and give up...or did he get a lung blown clean onto the pavement and was dead before he hit the ground) the difference in body type (shooting a 300 lb Body Builder, vs. a 130 mal-nourished heroin addict is is if one is juiced up on drugs at the time) But also it ruled out shootings were multiple shots were fired.

    The last one is important as MOST shootings more than one shot is fired. Another maxim I learned from Marines is "Life is expensive, ammo is cheap. What's worth shooting once, is worth shooting twice".

    Factor in the nature of handgun ballistics, you should plan to shoot a hostile target as many times as you are presented clean shots.

    There is a technique called a "Double Tap" where you place two shots on target in very rapid succession for hopefully better results than just a single placed shot. That technique is now fairly antiquated and has been replaced by advice to continue the double-tap chain fire on until the threat is observed to have stopped.

    Really when you're enacting deadly force, "Overkill" is kind of a stupid term. As we've said before, one shot in an odd place with a .22 can kill can multiple shots with a .45 leave them not only alive, but continuing to fight.

    Thomas left this article on my blog the other day:

    here's the punchline:
    "Remarkably, Palmer had taken 22 hits from Soulis' .40-caliber Glock, 17 of which had hit center mass. Despite the fact that the weapon had been loaded with Ranger SXTs—considered by many to be one of the best man-stoppers available—Palmer lived for more than four minutes after the last shot was fired. His autopsy revealed nothing more than a small amount of alcohol in his bloodstream."

    That's just amazing, but stories like these are not horribly uncommon.

    22, hits, 17 COM, and the attacker was STILL alive for 4 more minuets! Doesn't make the 6 shots on target seem so "Overkill" anymore does it?

    Great post, and great discussion questions, Mike!

  3. why don't defensive gun uses (most of which don't involve shots fired) make the news? there's no active conspiracy, nothing particularly sinister to accuse the press of; these stories just don't make good headlines.

    the American press is heavily invested in selling fear. (why? search me. cultural trait in the media business, i suspect.) Mike Moore commented on this in Bowling for Columbine, in fact, i think it was one of the major points that movie was really trying to make.

    turn on any news broadcast, open most newspapers, and look for the unstated topic that's guided their selection of which stories to report and what language to phrase them in, how they're framing the message. most times --- not always, but the majority of cases --- it's "you should fear this!" "this here is dangerous to you!" "these people are out to hurt your community!" "this phenomenon is a threat to people like you!"

    (the more right-wing the news outlet, the more blatant this seems to get. fox news is near unwatchable for a great many different reasons, but this one is among them.)

    what's to fear in some decent, honest fella defending themselves successfully? that's not dangerous to anybody the news media try to market themselves to. that's reassuring to most people. the subtext behind such stories goes something like, "you don't need to be so afraid of muggers / burglars / rapists / carjackers. you can fight them off, and this person did it just fine."

    and somehow, the media have come to believe --- without, i think, stating it outright even to themselves in their corporate lunch rooms --- that such reassuring stories don't really sell, for whatever reason. they might get reported on, but if so they get very minor "human interest" coverage and are quickly buried.

    that doesn't mean such things don't happen. what the media give "human interest" coverage to, when you think about it, tends to be commonplace occurrences. "dog bites man" doesn't get front-page headlines, but that isn't because it never happens.

  4. The story you commented over on my blog--"Family pup shot execution style in local park" shows that yes, the media (or at least that particular media) is biased. (for those not familiar, an honest headline would have been something like "Full-grown Rottweiler running loose shot while attacking leashed puppy")

    If this Atlanta story was a non-justified shooting, the news report was at least as bad, and left out equally important details.

    It is relatively common for local press to have stories of armed defenders chasing a criminal away, with the story ending "police are searching for {description}. These don't typically make national news.

    As for multiple shots--If a single center mass shot fails to stop an attacker, it is likely that the attack won't stop until the attacker collapses from blood loss (taking several minutes in most cases), or has serious central nervous system damage.

    It is relatively common for close-range gunfights to miss completely. How does a defender know how many of his shots hit the target?

    I sometimes shoot informal IPSC matches. Shooting against the clock is far different than bullseye. Shooting steel targets when you have to wait for one to fall before you can shoot the next is even more difficult. It often makes more sense to shoot again rather than wait and see. I would think that this is even more sensible if your target has a weapon.

  5. Weer'd, I meant to say once before that you have some cool technology. To read my blog on your cell phone is really cool. Here in Italy we're about 6 months behind the times, and then I always seem to be a year or two behind that. So, to me, that's a cool cell phone.

  6. Mike,

    Question about Marine training, if you can remember.

    When presented with a clear threat on a battle field; how many shots were you trained to fire at that threat?

  7. Bob, I was trained for Viet Nam; it was a long time ago. Does it really pertain?

    In any case, I'm fairly convinced that stopping shooting immediately after the threat is removed, is hard to do. I allowed for that in my post. That's not one of the major issues of focus, which are:
    1. why so few defensive gun stories?
    2. how often is bullying or even murder disguised as defensive gun use?
    3. what exactly constitutes a life threat?

  8. Mike,

    It is germane because how does one recognize what a threat is and how does one determine when that threat is removed?

    I think we've covered why so few defensive stories quite well, but I'll one to the and you aren't going to like it

    I think there are so few because people like you don't talk about them on their blogs.

    If the newspapers saw how many people were talking about defensive stories, not just us "gun nuts" but regular folks, maybe even anti-gun folks then the stories would be published.

    I repeat my challenge: For every criminal use of a firearm story you post, post a defensive use. Deconstruct it like you did on the Atlanta shooting, question it. Determine what you would do in that same situation.

    Maybe if more people are doing that, we'll see more stories. I can tell you that one of the longest comment threads at a local news station was a "gun" related thread about Rebecca Aguilar and it lead to her firing.

    What elements in a story would lead you to suspect disguised murder or a coverup? Perhaps you could find an example of a defensive shooting you think qualifiies.

  9. These types of stories do happen far more frequently than CNN covers them. However, these stories are far more frequent on local news sites rather than national. Every once in a while, CNN will air one but when they do it is usually because it is a national story on another network or that it happened in Atlanta.

    We don't know enough about what really happened here to armchair rather or not it was a good shooting. As pro gun as I am, even I have to wonder about the sequence of events. However, on the question about the number of shots fired, it is well documented that people hopped up on dope can continue a fight even after they have received a lethal wound. Of course the story here doesn't mention any drugs and we have no way of knowing but that is one possible reason the man had to keep shooting beyond the 2 or 3 you ask about.

    The use of deadly force is a serious act. Deploying deadly force takes a split second balance of the situation at hand with a regard for the law and your own morals. If you are justified in firing once, you are justified in firing 15 times. There is no degree of the use of deadly force--you either can or you can't.

  10. From gun bloggers, I see a couple stories like this per month--so often that it isn't national news.

    Few of these stories remain ambiguous after a day or so--In most cases there are either plenty of witnesses, sufficient corroborating evidence, or the criminal histories of the involved people tell much of the tale.