For decades I’ve warned folks not to have a gun visibly in hand when a stranger who might be a police officer comes to the door. A recent tragedy left a young USAF member dying in his apartment when he made that mistake, caught on the deputy’s body camera.These incidents are widely misunderstood. Attorney Andrew Branca absolutely nails the issues, here:

or watch video here.

The rule is, “You don’t have to be RIGHT, you have to be REASONABLE.” The police were called on an act of violence and after twice announcing “Sheriff’s Office” were confronted by a man wielding a pistol. Nature took its course.

Whenever there’s a victim, people assume a villain. In tragic cases like this, we have two victims of a terrible confluence of circumstances. It’s a one in a million kind of thing, but according to the Department of Justice there are some fifty million police/citizen contacts in our country every year. Such tragic mistakes, for which Andrew popularized the term “awful but lawful,” will continue to happen. This is why I don’t answer the door without a gun, but I don’t have it visibly in hand. I recommend others follow the same policy.

26 COMMENTS

  1. How would people recommend having a gun at hand when opening the door?
    In the hand but hidden by the door is an idea, but any sensible cop is going to be immediately suspicious of someone with one hand concealed….
    njk

    • If, God forbid, a uniformed peace officer shows up again at the front door to tell me that a neighbor was complaining about a dog that is presumed to reside in my domicile having made illegal and obnoxious noise at four in the morning, whether or not justifiably to my mind barking or howling in reaction to noise made by visiting coyotes, I would plan to visibly clasp my hands together atop my head after opening the inside front door, which has a sturdy security door ahead of it that opens to the outside, and small windows on either side. I would also likely have a compact handgun in an easily removed Kydex holster riding on my belt, in back.

    • Maybe in the pocket, with one hand on it. If it is needed, we draw it out. If it is not needed, we leave it there, and show our bare, unarmed hands to the police officer. Of course, this requries a small gun. A larger gun could be handy in a holster, but undrawn. Or, it could be in a visible holster, which might make the cop nervous. I don’t know. I like the small gun in the pocket.

  2. Reports indicate that the involved deputy was fired by his sheriffs department and that FDLE is conducting an investigation but no decision on possible criminal charges has been reached.

    Lots of questions and food for thought with this tragic situation: If you thought it was law enforcement, why open the door with a gun in hand? If you thought it wasn’t law enforcement and believed it was a potentially deadly threat, why open the door at all? Is it reasonable for police to use deadly force at the mere sight of a gun in someone’s hand in their own home? Why are Karens always calling the police for anything and everything?

    • I wonder who would be stupid enough to work for the Okaloosa sheriff’s office, when the leadership isn’t even going to wait for a trial before they cast you to the wolves?

      Fortson obviously never took MAG 40, or watched any of Mas’s videos. Going to the door with a gun in your hands will pretty much guarantee that you’re going to get shot.

      Benny Crump plays politicians like a finely crafted violin, and none of them have the balls to stand up for what’s right to shut that ambulance chaser down.

  3. i keep a gun belt and empty holster next to my gun on a dresser in my bedroom. get a knock on the door after bed time, gun belt goes on, holster goes on appendix, gun goes in holster t-shirt pulled over to conceal…

    epstein didn’t kill himself…

  4. The Rottweilers usually answer the door first; after checking the Ring camera, I decide whether or not to open it. I keep a holstered concealed pistol with me regardless

  5. As for the “gun in the hand” question: If you never open the door, it’s not a thing to analyze. Never open the door. Never. I wrote about this at the Modern Service Weapons site. He or she claims to be an LEO? Confirm it with 9-1-1. My “tactics” are to monitor on video and immediately call 9-1-1. Stay away from the door and converse over the intercom. Happened recently at 1:37 a.m., it was as I assessed, a broken down motorist (guy had two flats from bad driving, he just had a run-in with wife and left house without phone. He was bleeding from wife attack or the crash). He pleaded on his knees for me to open the door and help. I did not respond or open the door. SO deputy responded; motorist was located and assisted.

    As for the legal analysis in Florida: Andrew repeatedly focuses on the irrelevance of the dead victim’s perspective. That is very important. It isn’t relevant or admissible, and it is reversible error for a prosecutor to argue it. I wrote on that in a Bar newsletter for lawyers and judges about two years ago.

    I feel at liberty to further comment as follows: There is an IA report from the Okaloosa Sheriff’s office available online. It has some very interesting (and possibly outcome determinant) content not addressed by those who have opined on the criminal exposure of the deputy. The sheriff based employment dismissal of the deputy on it. I think that was unseemly and improper. The FDLE investigation continues.

    The characterization of an event as “lawful but awful” or “awful but lawful” may be a nice rhyme, but it is often incorrect. Exhibit 1, a Florida sheriff (Florida Bar member) concluding that someone shooting 30 rounds through his glass patio door because of a shadowy figure (the pool cleaner) seen on the pool deck at night (without opening blinds) cannot be charged because of “Stand Your Ground” or the “Castle Doctrine.” Complete misapplication of the law.

  6. This is tragic. If I was on the jury I would have a difficult time with this situation.

    I’m sorry for the loss of life and the ruined career of a police officer when we need everyone we can get.

  7. From the video clip thatI saw, the pistol was by his side. Yes, I am well aware that it can be brought to bear in short order.

    OTOH, police frequently seem to default to shoot when they already have their pistols on target. I feel like they can afford a second to observe.

    • Could the officer have shouted, “Drop the weapon!” and waited for compliance? (I didn’t view the video yet.)

    • The Washington Gun Law guy is hardly qualified to explain Florida self-defense law. Or analyze (or spot procedural or other deficiencies) in the sheriff’s decision to terminate the deputy based on a sustained excessive use of force allegation. Moreover, in the video you referenced — he basically admits he was a fool in his prior video where he accused the deputy of an execution killing. Stay in your lane Washington Gun Law guy.

    • His analysis of this has been terrible, and I don’t like saying that, because I enjoy his videos otherwise. I was glad when Branca called him out on it on the legal side. On the practical side, the airman made a dumb mistake opening that door with a firearm in his hand. As tragic as this was, when I first saw that video, I couldn’t get outraged over it.

  8. I find the idea of “wrong-house shooting incidents” to be low-key terrifying, as I am equipped and motivated to defend my property in all situations.

    Just a few months before this incident, we had Officer Jonah Hernandez in New Mexico who was killed by a knife-wielding homeless scumbag, because Hernandez tried to run/de-escalate/etc. rather than draw his pistol and ventilate the perp.

    I’m infuriated that the USAF member was killed, but I am *equally* infuriated that Hernandez was killed. And both incidents could have been better mitigated or prevented altogether.

  9. I firmly believe that police training has gone waaaaaaay down with all the retirements! The officer made mistakes too. WHO has ever been taught to stand in front of a door??? “IF” he were at the frame, with cover, he could have had a few more seconds to process the scene. A man just standing holding a gun downward is NOT an “Imminent threat” that requires deadly force. Unfortunately, in his training mind set, blasting him was his only option. Was he alone at a family/disturbance call??? I blame the chief/training over the officer!

  10. Just a horrible situation! You’ve just had a very loud argument or fight with your wife or girlfriend and moments later a loud knock at the door by a person claiming to be with the Sheriff’s Department. It would be reasonable to believe someone heard the fight and called the Sheriff. It would be reasonable not to answer the door with a gun in your hand. It would be reasonable to believe this is not a home invasion or someone misrepresenting themselves as the Sheriff’s department. Don’t answer the door with a gun in your hand after a loud fight with your wife or girlfriend!

  11. People need to get with the times. The days of jack-booted thugs roaming the streets with impunity are over thanks to badge cams. How anyone could defend the action of this cop is beyond reason.

    • Rick, please give that some more thought.

      If you worked behind the counter and a customer at the door came face to face with you with a gun in his hand, even pointed at the ground, would you not think you might be in danger from an armed robber?

      If you learned that when your little girl was selling Girl Scout cookies door to door a man opened his door with a pistol in his hand, would that not concern you?

      Put yourself in the officer’s position.

      • I don’t think either analogy is relevant.

        There’s a difference between someone walking into a store holding a gun & someone holding a gun in their home. I’ll answer the question anyway. If I was behind the counter & already had my gun drawn (which the cop apparently did) I wouldn’t immediately start shooting the person because I think I might be in danger.

        Would it be okay for the Girl Scout to shoot the guy holding the gun?

        Putting myself in the officer’s position I wouldn’t have immediately shot the guy.

        I’m not a defund the police guy. I just think police should face the same consequences as anyone else for their actions.

  12. As far as answering the door with a pistol in hand, but pointed down, let’s consider three scenarios.

    Imagine a homeowner answers a door, and the person standing there, in plain clothes, has a pistol in hand, pointed down. I think that homeowner needs to be concerned that they are about to be attacked. At that point, the homeowner might be justified in simply shooting the person at the door. Or, the homeowner might try pointing their gun at the suspect, and telling them to leave, drop the weapon, or issue some other warning like that, before firing.

    The police officer should consider that if a homeowner answers a door with a gun in hand, it might be because they don’t know who they will find. Here’s a real disaster; Imagine opening a door, seeing a uniformed police officer standing in front of you, but the officer is an imposter. It is a crook dressed as a police officer. I think I would lose, if that situation happened to me.

    Here’s the third scenario to consider. In the real life encounter, the police officer saw the door open, and a young man was there, with a pistol in his hand. Imagine what the police officer would do if the person who opened the door was a a grandmother, with a pistol in her hand. Would the officer shoot the grandmother, or tell her to drop the weapon? Aye, there’s the rub.

    Anyway, bad things happen in this world. Many things are black and white, but many things are gray also.

  13. A good rule of thumb, If you think you might need a gun in hand when opening the door, just don’t open the door.
    If covid hysteria gave us one thing, it’s acceptance of talking to someone through a doorbell system.

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