Being able to carry a weapon in the United States is both a right and a privilege. I believe everyone has a right to defend themselves, but the one thing that we all must understand is, with this right comes great responsibility. When you decide to carry something so powerful that it can end someone’s life, you must change your mindset. You must think how other people will react when seeing your weapon, particularly when you are dealing with the police.
I’ve been legally carrying a weapon for over 30 years, first as a law enforcement officer and now as a licensed private investigator. As a law enforcement officer, I had to remember that not everyone recognized that I was a law enforcement officer, particularly when I was in plainclothes. Police officers are trained to eliminate the threat. If you have a weapon in your hand, you are now the threat. I always had to make sure that I had some way of identifying myself as law enforcement, whenever I was in a situation where my weapon was drawn. If I was in my vehicle on surveillance or covering an undercover operation, I would always have my bulletproof vest slung over my seat so I could quickly put it on before I exited the vehicle, therefore, identifying myself as law enforcement. As private citizens, we all have to be mindful that police officers do not know who we are or why we are carrying weapons. It is up to us to make sure that we tell the police officer we have a weapon and to not move our hands anywhere near the weapon. It is also important not to have anything on your body that could lead the police officer to think you’re carrying a weapon. I remember a post that a private investigator posted in a message board complaining about the “Keystone Cops” at a sheriff’s substation. The private investigator was licensed to carry a weapon and when he arrived at the substation took the weapon out of his holster and locked it in the trunk of his car (two thumbs up). Now thinking that he had done the right thing, he proceeded to enter the substation and walked through the metal detector, still wearing his empty holster (two thumbs down). When a sheriff’s deputy saw the bottom of his holster sticking out from underneath his shirt, he yelled “Gun” and two deputies drew down on the private investigator. Instead of putting himself in the mind of the police officers and realizing that an empty holster covered by his shirt still indicated he was carrying a weapon, he thought he had done everything right because he was not wearing his weapon. In reality, he did everything wrong by not leaving his weapon in the holster and taking the holster off and locking it in the trunk of his vehicle. He was very lucky that the two deputies were both highly trained and not trigger-happy.
Some things to keep in mind when you are legally carrying a weapon, whether you have a CCW, HR 218 or you are a law enforcement officer in plainclothes.
- Police officers do not know who you are or why you might be carrying a weapon. They have no way of knowing who is legally carrying a weapon or who isn’t just by looking at them.
- Always keep your hands in plain sight of the police officer and do exactly as they say. As a law enforcement officer, whenever I gave somebody in order to show me their hands and they did not immediately obey, I believed that they were thinking about going for their weapon and killing me.
- Do not argue with the police. If the police conducted a traffic stop on you, it’s probably because you did something wrong. A broken tail light is a traffic violation, excessive speed is a traffic violation, so is crossing the center line. Do not take a minor traffic violation and turn it into a volatile tragic incident.
- It is a very bad idea to carry your firearms license anywhere near where you are carrying a weapon. If your weapon is on your hip and your license is in your wallet, get into the habit of taking your wallet it out your back pocket when driving.
I would like to end by saying that 99% of the law enforcement officers do a terrific job and are there to serve the public. The 1% of officers who are not on the job to serve the public generally get weeded out at some point. The decision to use deadly force for police officer is probably one of the hardest, if not the hardest, decisions they will ever make. The decision has to be made in fractions of a second it must withstand the rigor of the media, public opinion, departmental policy, and the judicial system. Most use of force policies state “you may use deadly force when you believe your life or the life of another is an imminent danger.” The term imminent danger is a subjective term, meaning I might not have felt I was in imminent danger, but my partner did, and he used deadly force. Law enforcement agencies today must make sure that they have a comprehensive firearms training program and conduct firearms training more than just once a year. Being a police officer today is much more difficult than even a few years ago. Police officers are being killed almost every day and are not receiving support from politicians, the media, or even the general public. So, before you strap on your weapon head out of the house, take a moment to get into the mind of the police officers you might encounter and remember the number one rule a police officer has is to “Make It Home Tonight.”