Today was a family day for me. My wife, two kids (ages 2 and 1) and I went out for breakfast at our friends’ restaurant. Afterward, we decided to do some shopping and just stay out of the house for a few hours. We decided to go to Target. My son fell asleep on the way.
I decided that if he could take a nap in the car, I could too! My wife and daughter went inside. I found a distant parking spot, put the sun behind us and we both dozed. After a few awakenings I realized that they had been inside for more than an hour. I sent a text message, asking my wife to please bring me a frozen strawberry smoothie from the Starbucks that was inside when they were ready to leave.
She texts me back and asked “can we come outside” – she was wondering if our son was awake yet. I am sure she was secretly hoping to get a few more minutes in the store. I texted back “he is awake, for five minutes now”. She texts back “ok”. I wait another couple minutes and drive up to the front of the store to pick them up and stop in what we all consider the pick up and drop off zone. Most big stores have them. The entrance and exits at this store are pretty far apart, and I was parked on the road, at least 30 feet from the exit. I parked about 25 feet in front of a white S.U.V. that I’m sure was doing a pick-up as well.
I had probably been sitting there for about a minute when a man walked by and stared at me. It seemed odd – it was a much longer stare than you are used to getting from a stranger. He never broke stride though and continued into the store. I looked down at my phone and continued to wait. Maybe another minute went by and I think I hear a knock on the window. I look over and it is the same guy that stared at me and I have no idea what he wants.
I lower my window (I have electric windows and my car was running because it was February in Ohio) and the guy starts yelling at me for blocking the doors and making everybody walk around. He is calling me inconsiderate, egotistical and a few profanities. I say a short and concise “ok” and raise the window back up, thinking he would go away. I could not have been more wrong. He continued to stand there yelling, his face about a foot from my window. I was neither blocking anything nor making people go out of their way.
He yells some more so I roll down the window and tell him I am waiting on someone and ask him to just leave me alone. I roll the window back up, yet he continues. I lower the window again and then tell him if he has a problem he should go inside and tell the store manager. He states I should park in the parking lot like everyone else. Of course he did not know that I had been in the parking lot for more than an hour, parked very far out so my son and I could have some quiet while we waited. I was not going to have my wife and two-year-old daughter walk so far on a 30-degree day. Heck, I had dropped my wife off at the door so she did not know where I had parked anyway.
So he keeps standing there, yelling, about a foot away from my car door. He continues yelling the same statement with slight variations, drawing a lot of attention. I lower my window a few more times and ask he to please leave. He keeps stating he is not leaving until I do. I guess he did not have any urgent shopping to do. Anyway, I knew that my wife was probably seconds away from coming outside and I wanted to stay in a public area in case this guy tried to follow me back to the parking lot, plus I had no duty to flee. I was allowed to be where I was. It is not like I had abandoned my car there for a long time. I had just pulled up!
I must state that I have no idea what possessed this man. I told him I was waiting on someone. I did not know him. I had done nothing to him. For some reason he felt the need to confront a total stranger over something extremely trivial. I was not blocking anything, nor inconveniencing anybody. I doubt any father would have done anything differently than I had thus far.
I must have asked him to please leave me alone twenty times and lowered and raised the window seven or eight times when my wife and daughter finally exit the building. I tell him my wife and daughter are here now so please leave us alone. He stands there blocking me from opening my door. I ask him to move. He again yells “I’m not leaving until you do” and refuses to move. I open my door and it brushes up against him. He shoves my door back hard, but I my feet are on the ground and am able to get out of the vehicle. I tell him to leave us alone again.
Now my wife is completely confused. She saw the guy standing there when she was inside the building but obviously could not hear anything. She later told me she thought we knew each other. But when she saw the guy shove the door back on me she knew something bad was happening. I step out incase he attempts to touch anybody in my family. I announce to everyone who could hear “we are trying to leave and this guy will not leave us alone. We want this guy to leave us alone.” And I announced it loud. If you do this, a person harassing you cannot later claim that you were escalating the situation.
He said “We don’t have to do this in front of your family. We can go around the corner”. And I thought, “do what”? He wants to go around the corner to fight? He is probably 40 and wants to fight me over this? Really?
I said you are not going to do anything to us. And again, loudly so everyone could hear, I said, “we just want to leave”. He showed no signs of leaving us alone.
It was then that he saw the gun on my hip. The look on his face just changed. He yelled, “You just brandished a gun. I am calling the cops”.
Well, I hadn’t even touched my gun. The gun was high on my hip, with the grip against my forearm, near my elbow. I announced, “I did not brandish a gun, I didn’t even touch it”. He said, and this is the kicker, “I used to be a cop. You did brandish a gun”. I told him to go ahead.
In this type of situation, you have to be very careful. If people hear someone say “this guy just brandished a gun” later they might believe that they saw it too. This is why I announced that I had not touched my gun. Now they knew who had the gun was and when they saw me say it and they also saw that I did not have a gun in my hand.
So with my family now safely in the car, I park around the corner to wait for the police to show up. I have my car facing the front of the store so I can see if this guy starts coming towards us. I see a red-shirted Target employee out there talking with the man, and then I see another man, in the white SUV who seems to be in an argument with the guy who was yelling at me. My wife and I had no idea what was going on.
The guy in the white SUV drove over and told he us had recorded the whole thing and that he would be a witness when the police got there. He said something like “that guy is crazy.” Well, I felt instantly better. You never know what could happen when it is just one person’s word against another. If a cop believed this guys story that I was pointing a gun around I could have been in a lot of trouble. Plus, I figured, what if he really was an ex-cop? That might score some points for him on the believability scale. But I know the law, and there is no way I would start pointing a gun around. I also figured that Target no doubt has security cameras aimed at their entrances and exits, but you never know if they were working or had a bad angle.
The guy in the S.U.V. drove back around the building I believe to wait on the police to arrive. Then the Target employee comes over and asks me what happened. I told him and he said the guy in the S.U.V. just said the exact same thing and had it all recorded on his phone.
And arrive the cops they did – I saw one car pull up to the front of Target and begin talking to people up there. Then I noticed there was another one already right behind me. I keep my hands on the wheel as the officer walked up. I immediately let him know I have a permit and am armed (as Ohio law requires). He says ok and asks me to step outside the vehicle. I let him know I have to take my seatbelt off just to be courteous. He says “ok”.
At this point, I believe I am going to be put in cuffs and have my gun confiscated. But he just asks me what happened. As I tell him the story I am cognizant of not making any sudden moves. I tell him I’d like to zip my coat up and he says fine. While he is running my identification I tell him I would like to roll my window up so my kids don’t get cold, and he says go ahead. Once the tale is finished and he is done with my checking my identification he says ok, please have a seat in your car.
Then a third policeman then shows up and the officer that interviewed me starts telling him my version of the story. This last officer who showed up asks me to complete a witness statement. I started feeling easier then, believing that I am not suspected of doing anything wrong. As I am filling out the witness statement I see the man who was yelling at me get put into the back of the police car in the front of the store.
When the officer returns I give him the witness statement, he returns my drivers license and says you are free to go. I asked what was going on. He told me that the guy who started the whole thing was under arrest for disorderly conduct. I told the officer I did not want to get out of the car, and that I knew the law. I think they appreciated how I handled the situation. I asked will I have to do anything else about this, and he replied only if the guy tries to fight the charge.
Concealed carry license holders tend to go out of their way to avoid confrontations. We do not want trouble. We know the consequences trouble can have. I had a gun on my hip and a guy is challenging me to a fight in front of my wife, two-year-old daughter and one-year-old son. I don’t know if at any moment he is going to lunge for them. It was a scary situation, and far too often scary situations lead to people getting seriously hurt.
As I was driving home I began analyzing the legal points of the confrontation, and wondered, “What if I had pulled my gun and used it”? Lets examine the laws regarding use of force by concealed handgun permit holders. In Ohio there are three things you have to prove to justify the use of deadly force. Fail to prove all three and you are the one that goes to jail.
The first is that you did not start the problem, and that you did not escalate the situation. It is obvious that I did neither.
The second is that, if you had the duty to flee, you took it. Well, first of all, I was in my car. Legally, in Ohio, being inside your car is the same as being inside your home. You do not have a duty to flee, plus I could not abandon my wife and daughter at the front of that store with a potential madman out there. He even attempted to prevent me from getting out of my vehicle to help my wife. As she was putting my daughter in the car and I stood between the man and them, he refused to leave us alone and was creating a dangerous environment. I think I had the second point covered – nobody would expect me to leave my family behind.
Now the third thing one has to prove in Ohio regarding deadly force is that you have to have a legitimate, reasonable fear that you or someone else is in serious danger of physical harm. Even though the man was off-balanced, rude and obnoxious I would not have been able to legally justify the use of deadly force. Had he assaulted me with the car door? Arguably yes. However, he had no weapon that I could see. Yes, he made threats, but words can’t physically hurt you. Yes, he shoved the door back on me when I was getting out the car but at that moment I still could not have honestly argued that I believed I had a reasonable belief that I was in danger of serious physical harm.
Here is the thing though – I believe the crazy guy got lucky that it was me he chose to mess with. Not to pat myself on the back, I am not sure he would have been ok with some other folks if he had assaulted them with the car door. In times of high adrenaline and emotions, some people might have assumed they had complete justification to use potentially lethal force. I would not say I was close to pulling my gun, but I can honestly say I was ready to should the guy provide the legal justification for me to do so.
I wonder if when the police had this guy in the back of their car they told him how stupid he was for starting such an incident, and how lucky he was the situation did not end up very badly. I would not be surprised to find out he had some real mental problems. Perhaps if he really did used to be a policeman those problems are why he is no longer one.
These types of incidents can happen to anybody. It happened to me today. It took more than three hours for the adrenaline to subside after we made it back home. It is easy to see how things can just go crazy all at once and people can get hurt. No matter how calm you try to be, and how hard you try to avoid confrontations, sometimes they just happen.
Sometimes bad people just cause problems. Sometimes you are unable to flee the situation. Thank goodness (for me and the angry guy) that he did not do anything to make me think there was a serious threat of physical danger. Even if I had complete justification to use deadly force I really would not have wanted to. Who wants to shoot someone in front of his or her kids and possibly go to trial because of an over-zealous prosecutor? Not me. I just want to be left alone.
This type of incident reflects well upon concealed handgun license holders. I believe that the vast majority of permit holders would have behaved the same way I did. Doesn’t it just sound odd that the person with the gun was the one begging to be left alone? Not quite the blood in the streets that the anti-gun folks predicted when CHL and CCW laws began making their way across the country.