Making Good Decisions

Recently, there have been stories in the news about private citizens using guns to stop petty crime (e.g. shoplifting, theft of goods).

A Michigan woman trying to stop shoplifters at a Home Depot.

A man  in Indiana trying to stop shoplifters at a farm supply store.

A woman in Bellmead, Texas trying to hold a purse-snatcher at gunpoint until the police arrive.

In all of these cases, the people had good intentions. They saw something bad happening and – given the popular outcry to “do something” when bad things happen – they did something.

Unfortunately, their choice of something to do wound up doing themselves more harm than good.

On Wednesday, a Michigan judge sentenced Duva-Rodriguez to 18 months of probation and stripped the 46-year-old of her concealed gun permit.


If convicted – Reynolds is charged with criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon and pointing a firearm – Reynolds could face up to five years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines.


A McLennan County grand jury indicted Emma Cotten, 28, on a deadly conduct charge in a Nov. 20 incident in the parking lot of a Bellmead Wal-Mart, sources familiar with the case said Wednesday.


Deadly conduct can be a Class A misdemeanor or a third-degree felony, depending on how it is alleged. That was unclear Wednesday, because the indictment remains sealed.

Is this right?

Certainly some people would say it isn’t, because they were just trying to help.

Others would say it is right, because they broke the law.

Let’s consider the actions themselves.

Maximize Enjoyment of Beer & TV

What was the context of the crime? Generally petty: theft, shoplifting, purse snatching. Certainly things society deems unacceptable, but it’s small property crimes.

Was anyone’s life in danger? Nothing in the news reports indicate the crimes put lives in danger.

Was deadly force – because that’s what these people all used – justified in these cases? I cannot speak to Michigan or Indiana law, but in Texas there are situations where yes you can use force or deadly force to protect property (see Texas Penal Code, Title 2, Chapter 9, Subchapter D, §9.41 – §9.44). But just because you can, does that mean you should?

Let’s get back to the maxim of “making choices that maximize your enjoyment of beer & TV“.

Did the choices these 3 people make enable them to maximize their enjoyment of beer & TV? I would say no. The fact they are now facing criminal charges means lawyers, court appearances, lots of money spent, perhaps loss of job and/or wages, not to mention the mental and emotional anguish and pain this will cause them, not just for the months it will take to resolve the situation but likely it will loom over them for the rest of their lives. To me, that doesn’t enable maximum enjoyment of beer & TV.

Yes I know it’s terrible to see crimes unfold around you, but your response needs to be in accordance. Could you have gotten pictures of the car? Maybe a good description, the license plate number? These are responses that can help abate the crime, but don’t put your life or other lives in danger. And then, you can proceed to beer & TV.

C.Y.A. – Can You Articulate?

What was troubling to me as well is the interviews with the first two citizens and what they said about their choices and actions:

“I made a decision in a split second,” she told judge Julie Nicholson on Wednesday, according to WJBK. “Maybe it was not the right one, but I was trying to help.”


“She’s there to help; saw something happening; thought it was serious; pulled her gun,” added Schwartz, her attorney. “She didn’t want to hurt anybody. We didn’t know that there were any people in the parking lot, other than this person that was driving away this vehicle. She didn’t shoot it in the air; she didn’t shoot it at the window, at the windshield. She fired at the tires.”

She made a choice. She needs to be able to articulate why she made that choice.

What did she understand about the situation? about it that made it serious enough to warrant the use of deadly force? That if she didn’t want to hurt anyone, why would she resort to an option that has the potential to cause hurt?

As two shoplifting suspects got into a truck in the parking lot of the Big R in October, Reynolds said he fired one shot in an attempt to stop the suspects from getting away.

“I wanted them to stay there [in the parking lot] until the police arrived,” Reynolds said.


Reynolds said he fired one shot at the truck just behind the passenger seat because he felt threatened.

“I figured if [the suspect] had a weapon, he wasn’t gonna use it then,” Reynolds said.


Reynolds said he never intended to shoot anyone; he just wanted to scare the suspects into waiting for the police, which is why he placed his shot where he did on the truck.

So which is it? Did you shoot to have them stay in the parking lot? Did you shoot to scare them? Did you shoot because you thought the guy had a gun and going to hurt you? But if you thought he wasn’t going to hurt you, how did you feel threatened? Or did you never intend to shoot anyone?

There’s a lot going on here, and his intentions don’t seem to be well-articulated.

(I also wonder if it was wise for him to try to articulate to a news reporter, before first articulating to the judge and jury).

As for the Bellmead case, I wrote about that last month under the same notion: Can you articulate?

It’s not just the ability to articulate your choices after the fact, to the police, to the judge, to the jury. It’s important to be able to articulate your choices to yourself BEFOREHAND.

Training – More than Marksmanship

If you choose to carry a gun, you take on a great responsibility. There are clear times to use it, and clear times not to use it. But there are a lot of times that aren’t so clear. Thus it is important for you to clearly articulate to yourself – before you find yourself in a situation – to know where your lines are drawn.

Will you insert yourself into a crime unfolding between two strangers? Maybe you are in the 7-11 when the place gets robbed. Will you try to stop it? Should you?  Maybe you see a man atop another giving him the ground & pound. Do you know what’s going on? Just because the guy on top is punching, does that mean he’s the criminal (maybe he’s the Good Samaritan beating some dude that just attempted to kidnap a child). Should you insert yourself?

What if you get involved, and then you get injured. Will those people pay your medical bills?

What if you get involved, and you injure someone else? Will you pay those medical bills? Will you pay for the property damage? Will you be prepared for potential lawsuits that could drag on for years and throw you into bankruptcy?

I’m not saying these things will happen, but they could happen. It is important for you to consider these things, and how they pertain to your situation and how you should react. The answers are different for everyone, and even the same person might change their answers when their life changes (e.g. you might respond different if you are single with no kids vs. married with small children).

Know your lines, where they are drawn, and what responsiblity and consequences you are willing to accept. Figure this out beforehand. I’m not sure any of these three people did:

“I thought, ‘Really? A felony charge?’” Reynolds said. “I’m very well trained.”

Maybe in marksmanship, but there’s a lot more to self-defense than marksmanship.

He still supports people arming themselves for protection, but urges people to get some kind of training.

Indeed. Learn from their mistakes. Get training – before you need to put it into practice.

The woman in Bellmead? Seems she didn’t have a handgun license. In Texas, the handgun license program really is about learning the law. I wonder if she had taken the class and learned something about the law, if she might have made different (better) choices that day.

And realize: training is more than marksmanship. There’s learning the law. There’s learning how to handle pressure situations (e.g. scenario training, force-on-force training). These sorts of classes aren’t as fun as burning through 1000 rounds of ammo in a weekend, but I’d say they’re a lot more fun and educational than being charged with a felony and being dragged through the court system.


There’s a great deal to be learned from these 3 cases.

First, we must work to make good decisions. While “maximize enjoyment of beer & TV” sounds silly, it really works towards helping you determine what is a good decision (at least in this context).

Second, making good decisions comes from prior thought. To know ahead of time where your capabilities lie, where your lines are drawn. The ability to articulate those lines will be important in your decision making, and in your post-action explanations.

Third, making good decisions is empowered by knowledge. Ignorance rarely leads to good outcomes. The more you know, the better off you’ll be.

Finally, we have good people in this world. People that still care. People that are tired of seeing bad things happening and want to try to help. Really, we cannot lose sight of that, and we ought to encourage more of it. In encouraging it, we must direct and enable people to make wise decisions, and we ourselves must endeavor to ensure our decisions and actions will be the best they can be.

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