About Steven Harris

Steve Harris is an experienced attorney (member of Florida Bar, 1979) who has represented federal agents and local LEOs in duty related matters. He has written and lectured about officer involved shootings, self-defense, and use of force law, including "Stand Your Ground." Steve has been a seasoned and active competitive handgun shooter for over 20 years.

THE DEADLY FORCE PARADIGM: THE CAN

“Great losses are great lessons.”
― Amit Kalantri

     When I introduced the CAN paradigm element (2012, see HERE, and 2015, see HERE), I identified three components: mindset; equipment; skill. In various MSW posts I offered related concepts, including: advance planning; physical conditioning; tactics; competence under pressure; reliable, mission appropriate equipment; training; practice; retreat; disengage; challenge; threatening deadly force; gun-pointing; less lethal. Whether LEO or nonsworn, employing deadly force when wrong; when appropriate, but done negligently, or; failing to employ it when needed (the MUST), can be immediately and/or long-lastingly painful to the mistake maker or other innocents (loved ones, strangers, K9 partner, or citizens you are sworn to “protect and serve”).

    CAN failures engender SHOULD misjudgments, and often beget an unwelcome response from the legal system (the MAY).  Of timely and particular note: (1) Regardless of a “win” in the hearing room or courtroom, complete “vindication” and a return to the status quo ante are nevertheless rarely attained; (2) For LEOs who make ugly mistakes, the landscape of policing has changed.  You are no longer practically immune from criminal prosecution for CAN failures. Prosecutors will charge assault, battery, manslaughter, or culpable negligence when they come upon an LEO who has injured or killed and comes up short on their view of the MAY. Although quite rare, the specter of dual federal/state prosecution has a special impact of its own. (See HERE). Continue reading

“CASTLE” DEFENSE REVISITED

A bit more than three years ago (November 2013), I wrote (applying the four elements of my deadly force paradigm) on armed response to a home invasion.  See “‘CASTLE’ DEFENSE: WHAT CAN–MAY–SHOULD–MUST YOU DO.”  [See also other active links in the text below, and related MSW posts referenced below].  For our purposes here, “home invasion” is defined as an unlawful and forceful entry by stranger(s) into the enclosed confines (fenced or walled grounds, or building interior) of an occupied residential dwelling.

In the prior post, I offered for consideration on the SHOULD and MUST: “The legally recognized sanctuary  of your “castle” has been invaded. The presence of criminal-minded strangers who have made forceful entry often ends in great bodily harm or death, and such heinous crimes carry long prison sentences.  Innocent lives (yours included) are clearly in extreme peril.  Escape is often impossible or impractical, as an attempt to do so may put innocent life in increased danger.  You have issued a verbal challenge or decided to do so would be tactically unsound, and have a target at gunpoint or are at your favorite ready position.  The home invaders are now aware the castle is occupied and their presence is known, but have chosen not to make a hasty exit.  If not now, when?” (Italics added here for emphasis). Continue reading

MADE IN THE USA : CONSOLE VAULT®

fordf1502015consolevault

Takeaway:  Do not leave an unsecured handgun (whether loaded or unloaded) in an unattended vehicle unless the environment is secure or you or a trusted other has eyes on it.  If there will be times when you cannot do that, upgrade the vehicle storage space with a security enhancement such as a reinforced trunk, or a permanently installed or cabled hardened lock box. This admonition is a matter of common sense risk mitigation (loss of life and property, and civil liability come to mind) and compliance with the requirements of various federal and state laws.

If you own a popular model truck or SUV, the manufacturer/vendor deserving of your first look for handgun storage is Console Vault®.  For under $300 you can have a good-looking and perfectly fitting, permanently installed secure lock box in your factory console, with combination dial or “barrel” key access.  (If you are even slightly handy, it is a 15-minute DIY job which produces a factory installed look). Continue reading

MADE IN THE USA : LEATHER GUN BELTS

 

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I heard on a podcast that sporting a nylon “tactical” belt is a “tell” that there is a concealed handgun not too far away.  I am not all on board with the “tell” analysis, but OK fine, we ( 🙂 ) likely should all plead guilty. Doesn’t every serious gun-toter have at least one belt from The Wilderness, and one of those ultra-stiff, high-tech, superhero style belts made with indestructible fabric and a “special” bucklemaybe from AresGear? (Both are awesome — so I am told 🙂 ).  For many however, leather has been and remains the belt king. For some, “tactical” may simply be inappropriate. Maybe you’re a federal agent, an LEO who no longer wears a uniform, a concealed carrying non-sworn who has to “dress-up,” or a former “operator” now in corporate security or executive protection. Or maybe you simply want a changed look and a bit more “comfort.” What to do? Go with a leather belt specifically made for handgun carriage. If the don’t go tactical podcast is correct, all the better.

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Too Much Gun Pointing?

Elian-Gonalez

[Photo Credit: Alan Diaz, Pulitzer winner, for the AP (2000)]

Merriam-Webster (online): “at gunpoint – under a threat of death by being shot.”

Executive Summary: Why are guns pointed at people? On occasion, to shoot them. More often, to compel compliance with the gun pointer’s command (to cease unlawful or threatening activity and/or to initiate directed activity). Gunpoint command/compliance as a “technique” or “tactic” is frequently unsuitable, as a failure to comply (mere flight included) ought not be responded to with the use of deadly force.  [Because the MAY and SHOULD (elements of my deadly force paradigm — see related links below) are not satisfied].  For LEOs sued for “excessive force,” the propriety of gun-pointing will increasingly be a jury question. For the non-sworn, gun-pointing is strongly disfavored even when lawful, as it requires significant training, skill, and discipline..

Recent incidents of gun-pointing revived one of my long-held (about 15 years) firearm related observations:  Guns are pointed at people way more than they need to or should be pointed — by LEOs and the non-sworn.  (For a related MSW post, click: “CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE NON-SWORN : HOLDING SOMEONE AT GUNPOINT.”  I touched on the subject for LEOs as well, click: “THREATENING DEADLY FORCE : MUSINGS ON “BRANDISHING” AND “WARNING” SHOTS.” For my thoughts on gun fighting and shooting people (who need to be shot), click: “A SHORT ESSAY : WINNING IS EVERYTHING . . . AND THE ONLY THING,” and “MAY/MUST QUESTIONS ANSWERED CORRECTLY. . .SHOOT FIRST, LIVE”). Continue reading

MADE IN THE USA : (Some) “Soft” Goods Makers

madeinusa

For those who prefer to (or must) buy “Made in the USA,” here are some “soft” goods makers I favor (often after recommendations from full-time military or LEO users), along with my actual purchase examples.  These vendors make quality products with good fabrics and stitching; many are unique designs. Something (maybe everything) from each of their lines will likely interest you and satisfy your mission requirements and personal finickiness. Customer service is also top notch for all. Continue reading

THE DEADLY FORCE PARADIGM: THE “MUST”

 

Forced-to-live-in-a-house-after-my-fixed-term-tenancy-expires

I now offer for your consideration a “final” installment on my paradigm for the use of deadly force.  The posts directly-related, in chronological order, are HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE .

As previously defined, the MUST: If deadly force is not employed, you or someone you cannot live without will likely die.  Add, if you wish — the MAY permits, and the SHOULD will normally compel — or suffer great/serious bodily injury/harm. Sprinkle with the required dose of reasonable certainty that deadly force is necessary (something way north of even odds, as the use of deadly force invokes the decision process reserved to life’s most important questions) and imminence (usually meaning within a few seconds, but I often note how the certainty of suffering deadly force, might make much longer intervals considered imminent), and slip on the halo of the non-culpable, reasonable man acting in good faith.  (LEOs: I may write a post on your MUST at a later date).

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THE DEADLY FORCE PARADIGM : THE “SHOULD”

 

     “If your head tells you one thing, and your heart tells you another, before you do anything, you should first decide whether you have a better head or a better heart.”                                                                                     Marilyn Vos Savant

I framed the SHOULD element of my deadly force paradigm as — do you employ deadly force and risk everything you are/have and will ever be/have. It often presents as whether you should come to the aid of another person. As suggested in my prior paradigm posts, the SHOULD analysis likely goes to the “core of your being.”  So, don’t expect the answer from another (including me (HERE) ).  Moreover, your answer will be part of a complex split-second decision you will likely make alone. Thus, it behooves you to give it serious thought and make the necessary analyses ahead-of-time.  (If you’re an LEO, you have agency requirements and training imperatives — and case law trends — to factor in as well). The key is mental preparation. Before the event, you have one or more “plans” —  if this particular balloon goes up, I disengage/leave/summon help, or I respond with X, Y, and/or Z.

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THE DEADLY FORCE PARADIGM : THE “MAY”

Let’s revisit the MAY element in detail, as I promised in a recent MSW post on my use of deadly force paradigm. (HERE)

MAY: The inquiry — whether the use of deadly force is within the law.  (We live in political correctness infected and curious Rule of Law interpretation times; so, that inquiry is to be distinguished from the distinct and less easily answered —  can/will I be charged with a crime).  In earlier posts I urged the importance of knowing “the law” beforehand, what sources to study, and to be mindful of “trends” (the inclinations of prosecutors, juries, and judges . . . good luck with that) in the law of justified deadly force. Here’s sources, in my (but not necessary the only) order of research, usually available free — online or in every law school library:

  • Current year state statutes (caveat, even unambiguous statutes can be subjected to surprising judicial interpretation these days)
  • Jury instructions (often termed “pattern” or “standard,” possibly officially promulgated by state highest court, required or suggested in criminal cases and all trials, not always consistent with or limited to language of related statute)
  • Appellate case law (including opinions of the court over your locale’s trial court, the state’s other intermediary appellate courts, and the state’s highest court for criminal appeals)
  • Local prosecutor’s memoranda on use of deadly force by LEOs and nonsworn in cases not prosecuted
  • Federal case law commentary on state statute or common law use of force principles, or on Constitutional rights bearing on state criminal proceedings
  • State law legislative history and enactment commentary (may or may not exist)
  • Other state(s) interpretation(s) (highest state court opinions) of similarly worded statutes

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SUPREME COURT RULES ON FIREARMS DISPOSSESSION AFTER FEDERAL DISABILITY

                                    

Well, that was quick.  And a unanimous decision (9-0) no less.  I wrote in detail about Henderson v United States (HERE) in March, so go there for the facts of the case, related statutes, and parties’ arguments. (Note you are still good to go with the “Lessons Learned” discussion there). The actual 10-page May 18th opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court is HERE.  (I endeavor here not to confound you with any lengthy legalisms or scholarly analysis).

While the Court rejected almost all of what the Government argued, it did not — as I hoped it would — limit or reject the “constructive possession” theory, or give detailed guidance on the mechanisms for firearms dispossession.  The decision is nevertheless important to firearms owners who may run afoul of federal law which makes certain persons forever (felony conviction) or temporarily (mental/drug issues, pretrial release, probation, supervised release) barred from firearms “possession.”  But note, the Court stated (in a footnote) “. . . our decision here . . . addresses only . . . court-supervised transfers of guns.” Continue reading

THE DEADLY FORCE PARADIGM REVISITED: CAN – MAY – SHOULD – MUST

In a 2012 year-end post, I offered a decision paradigm on the use of deadly force. (HERE). The paradigm consisted of four elements — usually considered ad seriatim.  My paradigm remains a work-in-progress. I write now to restate it in a stand alone post, and to add some broad thoughts on the elements.  (I expect to tackle the elements in more depth in future posts).

Deadly Force Paradigm

CAN –  do I possess (to a reasonable certainty) the necessary equipment, skills, and mindset to accomplish the task (i.e., WIN)? This element should be addressed objectively, long before the moment-of-decision presents. Common sense in “equipment” selection, and repeated training and practice are essential.  Being physically fit is definitely part of this element.  (HERE).  Have you done all you can to be truly prepared to respond in a deadly force encounter?  By the way, which is paramount — equipment, skill, or mindset? Always? Continue reading

BODY ARMOR AND BALLISTIC RATED MATERIALS : FOR THE NON-SWORN?

                                             

Body armor and ballistic rated panels (for use in packs, briefcases, or other off-body use) are described best by the well-known Kafkaesque adage:  It is better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.  I don’t mock the “tacticool” nature of body armor, and I avoid debating the SWAT or military “wannabe” aspects of owning it. (I readily acknowledge you are not alone if you do). I think armored materials are something worthy of consideration for anyone who frequents gunfighting classes, shoots regularly, or because of employment or other lifestyle particulars, has concerns of going where negligent friendlies or armed hostiles might be present.  The days of body armor being only for LEOs passed (somewhat quietly) years ago.

Executive Summary:  Let’s default to my deadly force paradigm:  If you CAN afford it, and CAN do what you need to do when it is deployed (adequately conceal it, run and move effectively, maybe in confined space, and shoot, with additional bulky kit, maybe 18 pounds worth), go for it.  If you acquire it, study up on and observe the manufacturer’s storage and care specs for the particular product.  Unless a specific federal, state, or local law prohibits the ownership of such products, the non-sworn MAY own/wear body armor and ballistic-rated materials.  SHOULD you buy such products?  That is for you the reader to answer, as is how/when to use it.  If you buy, buy the best-tested you can afford which is convenient to deploy, fits properly, and can be stored and maintained to suit your lifestyle. Expect some ribbing from “friends.”  How about the MUST?  It is beyond question the products save lives.  Yours and/or the life of someone you “cannot live without,” regardless of who is slinging shots. At the very least, overt soft armor and plate carriers provide convenient, user-friendly platforms to attach identifying patches, pouches, and other “things.”  And plates do provide a good weight-bearing workout. Continue reading

AWERBUCK REDUX : MORE WARRIOR WISDOM

                                  

I previously posted “Louis Awerbuck Remembered” (HERE). (Click on the book above for the link to the Kindle at Amazon).   I wrote there I might have more gems to relate.   As promised:

  • If you have the time, go for the potentially most effective target area. If you don’t, get whatever meat and bone you can get, and maintain continuity of fire until the deadly force threat is gone. Continue reading

SUPREME COURT WATCH : COURT TO DECIDE UNUSUAL CASE RELATED TO FEDERAL FIREARMS DISABILITY AND DISPOSSESSION

   The U.S. Supreme Court is once again considering a case which could significantly impact those who own firearms, both LEO and the non-sworn.  (I previously wrote on the Abramski case, involving the ATF Form 4473 actual buyer rule, HERE and HERE). The recently submitted case, Henderson v. United States, arose in an interesting setting (equitable action for return of property under federal procedural rule), and has an unusual pedigree (the Court of Appeals decision is not officially published, and thus it is not precedential). Some have suggested Henderson reflects an irreconcilable conflict between federal statutes and a judicial rule. Others perceive it to be a forfeiture or 2nd Amendment case. I think it will not be decided as any of those. For a synopsis of the facts, and the legal issue(s) remaining after developments from the parties’ briefing, see the Henderson preview page at SCOTUSblog, HERE.

Like Abramski, Henderson was once an LEO (Border Patrol agent).  He entered a guilty plea to marijuana trafficking, for which he received a six-month prison sentence. The narrow question “officially” presented to the Supreme Court was whether after federal conviction, a judge may order the government to transfer non-contraband firearms voluntarily surrendered (to the FBI) as a condition of pretrial release to: a designated person, such as one to whom the defendant has sold the firearms, or; someone (who might be influenced by the defendant) to sell them, for the benefit of the defendant. I think the Court may remand for further proceedings to implement the law/procedure it decrees. Whatever the actual holding, I hope the Court will: provide guidance from which firearms owners (whether or not criminally accused or convicted) and their attorneys can implement a plan to effect dispossession upon firearm disability, and; put to rest erroneous legal positions (FFL requirement for consignment dispossession, necessity for the government or a court to inquire of and approve dispossession arrangements) advanced by the government. Continue reading

LOUIS AWERBUCK REMEMBERED

1948-2014
Warrior, Artist, Philosopher

  Who wouldn’t want to be remembered with words like these:

Stubborn, single-minded, articulate, knowledgeable, independent, moral, inquisitive, interesting and accomplished .   .  .

That’s what Robbie Barrkman wrote of Louis Awerbuck (his friend of 35 years) on his Robar Guns website, after Awerbuck’s death in June 2014.  (The entirety of the heartfelt tribute is HERE).   Awerbuck’s Yavapai Firearms Academy, with a summary of his resume, is HERE.  A 2008 interview of Awerbuck, where he answers well-posed questions on life, death, and equipment, is HERE.  Another one, rather well-known, “Interview With A Madman,” is HERE.  An interesting commentary on his death, evidencing Awerbuck’s appreciation for warrior history and philosophy, “Requiem For A Soldier,” is HERE.  It is said that he was fearless, but carried a high capacity 1911 as a primary, and a Glock 19 as backup. Continue reading