by Gila Hayes
English dramatist John Fletcher, echoing the Biblical admonition in Matthew 7:20, succinctly observed, “Deeds not words shall speak me.” Distilled into aphorisms like “Actions speak louder than words,” this motto has guided substantial change for good when men and women stopped talking and started doing the right thing. That timeless truth is also useful when deciding between two options. When potential members ask, “What makes you better than your competitors?” I often respond, “Instead of listening to a bunch of words, I’d urge you to look at what we have done for our members.”
Because Network members do a great job of avoiding dangers, we often go through an entire year with only one or two members needing assistance after self defense. That has let us build up the Legal Defense Fund to over two million dollars because we have not needed to draw on it very often. In the same vein, one year’s history cannot illustrate the full spectrum of Network assistance to members after self defense.
Since a snapshot of a single year’s history cannot tell the whole story, I would like to offer a review of the past decade. Since opening the Network in 2008, we have paid attorneys to represent 23 members who have used force in self defense with the first member-involved case coming in February of 2011. The Network provided funding to spearhead the legal services needed for a professional legal defense. In addition to attorney fees, we’ve paid for investigators, expert witnesses and court costs after the member defended himself or his family (I use the male pronoun because to date, none of our female members have had to defend themselves).
Each self-defense situation differs hugely from cases funded previously or afterwards. As armed citizens, we prepare for the unknown and the undesired as best we can, but these efforts are hampered because no one can foresee exactly what may happen. Being unable to do anything but study what has happened to others certainly complicates preparation to weather the aftermath of self defense. This “unknowable” factor also makes it hard to predict the amount of one’s post-incident legal defense costs. Thus, unlike most of our competitors, the Network does not offer varying membership levels and dues rates for which a member would receive a lower or higher amount of assistance. After all, how can a member predict what he or she will face? All Network members are treated equally, with full funding for their legal defense paid to the attorney of the member’s choice after legitimate self defense.
Still, it is interesting to ponder the considerable variations in how much force is needed to resolve different threats. Compared to the finality of a self-defense shooting, defense with pepper spray, an improvised weapon, or bare hands can seem insignificant, especially to one trained in the use of deadly force for self defense. Sometimes minor blows are exchanged and matters seem to be settled after tempers cool off. The incidents seem to be not nearly as serious as defense involving guns would be, but the legal aftermath can still be very serious, requiring the services of a skilled attorney to reach a good resolution. Unfortunately, armed citizens sometimes fail to call police or seek an attorney’s advice after self defense that does not include firearms.
A parallel mistake is the expectation that it will cost less to mount a vigorous legal defense of non-gun defenses than to defend a man or woman who has had to shoot an assailant in self defense. That has not, in our experience, proven true. For example, a member in a rabidly anti-gun state became entangled in a minor parking lot confrontation that escalated to blows. The matter was resolved as quickly as it flared up and neither man chose to call to report the incident to police. The aggressor sustained a very minor injury–too slight to require medical treatment–but upon his return home, his wife insisted that he call police and “seek justice” by framing his injury as the result of an assault against him. Our member faced third degree assault charges and suspension of his gun rights, even though guns were never any part of the complaint.
His story underscores the seriousness of any use of force in today’s political environment. In an earlier era–a time that valued greater personal independence–self defense with pepper spray, empty hands or an improvised weapon might have ended with a surprised attacker shaking off the unexpected reaction to their aggression and slinking away. Today, knowing full-well that any use of force is scrutinized by the legal system, an embarrassed criminal–or his family and associates–is all too likely to grab a phone and call 9-1-1 and spin lies about being unlawfully attacked. How better to save face than to rain down third-party retribution on an innocent person who unexpectedly gained an upper hand over illegal and violent aggression?
After a minor, no-injury fracas from which all walked away a little wiser, the armed citizen has much to lose and really needs to call 9-1-1 and report any use of force. We live in the age of cell phone video in which amateur footage of fights makes popular viewing on social media and the news. Defending yourself even with empty hands is no longer the non-event it once was for school children exchanging blows with the school bully. Today’s criminals are adept at manipulating the system and quick to do just that to get revenge on the person who justifiably protected themselves. This has been true when several of our members received Network funding for attorney expenses after self defense without firearms.
Defense Without Firearms
As with minor fisticuffs, it is all too easy for armed citizens to view pepper spray as such a minor deterrent that they do not expect legal repercussions in the aftermath. Pepper spray saved a Network member during a choking attack a few years ago but our member was subsequently charged with assault and battery. The aggressor who was choking our member was taken to the emergency room after he complained of extreme physical discomfort from the pepper spray and as a result the police and prosecutor in a large northern metropolis went all-in to try to convict our member.
In the winter of 2017, we paid a Network Affiliated Attorney to fight that unmeritorious prosecution. She engaged investigators and experts to prove the truth about the attack against our member, but according to the attorney, the prosecutor’s office had too much ego on the line to back down. Only after long months of hearings leading up to trial, did a judge successfully encourage the prosecutor to drop the charges because the State’s key witness, the man who had choked our member, could not testify truthfully. The attorney’s bill came in at just below $60,000. If you missed our report on that case in 2018’s April and May journals, you can read the entire story at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/defending-pepper-spray-use and https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/defending-pepper-spray-use-2.
In a different pepper spray incident, after being trapped in his car by a large, angry man, a member holstered his gun–which he believed his aggressor had not seen–and grabbed a can of pepper spray in case the other man’s aggression ramped up again into actual violence. (Read the story at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/network-track-record.) That member was arrested, and we paid his attorney to make sure key evidence was presented to the district attorney. As a result, our member was not charged with a crime.
More recently, a member who earns his living driving a truck was threatened by a much younger, larger trucker. Choosing to deter the aggressor with pepper spray resulted in charges by the Midwestern city in which this occurred against both men and we paid an attorney to defend our member’s interests. In another member involved case, a business owner was threatened and so he brandished but did not discharge a can of pepper spray as a deterrent against escalation by an aggressive trespasser. Our member’s belt holstered handgun was never drawn, but momentarily came uncovered during the effort to eject the man. Our member believed the situation was harmlessly resolved until the city served him notice that he was being investigated. We paid a Network affiliated attorney in that Southern city to intervene on his behalf and that lawyer eliminated the danger of charges against our member.
Pepper spray is a useful defensive option but it is still a weapon that must be treated as such, both in terms of training and legal aftermath. We applaud members for having and using what Network Advisory Board member Massad Ayoob has called “layered defenses” to stop assaults before situations turn deadly.
The Network has always provided assistance to members who resort to lower degrees of force to stop an attacker because as these cases prove, the legal entanglements that ensue do require an attorney’s intervention to prevent what seems minor from ballooning into a major loss of rights. In two of the pepper spray cases, members also lost employment in the aftermath, further underscoring that in today’s society armed citizens don’t have the option to consider even a relatively minor use of force inconsequential.
In many of these situations, members had access to firearms, but appropriately employed non-lethal force to stop the attack. In several instances, members have faced legal consequences after self defense when, as in the case of the member who threatened an aggressive vagrant in his place of business with pepper spray, the fact that the member was armed although he did not display the gun at all, increased the severity of the situation. In addition, two members have faced legal complications when, although not resorting to the gun they carried, they defended themselves through other means only to have the aggressors lie about being threatened at gunpoint.
One case took place in the South when a member removed and secured his firearm in his vehicle in compliance with the 9-1-1 dispatcher’s instructions while waiting for police to resolve a road rage incident; in another, a man who had faced multiple aggressors told responding police that he carried but had not displayed a firearm. When police took custody of the gun during the police contact (a common “officer safety” precaution), one of the bad guys saw the pistol and spun a lie that included a description of the handgun he saw police securing during contact with our member. This occurred in the upper Midwest, and the Network paid an attorney to resolve the legal woes that resulted.
Two Network members have defended themselves with improvised weapons. In one situation a hammer was brandished and in the other, a retiree used a golf club to create distance between himself and an attacker. We funded the attorney of each member’s choice. One incident took place in the Southwest; the other was in the upper Midwest, so one cannot blame anti-self-defense attitudes common to the extraordinarily restrictive North East or West Coast states.
Defensive Display of a Firearm
The greatest number of defensive gun uses by Network members has not involved shooting. That parallels national statistics researched by John Lott, Jr. at https://crimeresearch.org and data reported in his numerous books, articles and interviews. Eight times in the last ten years, Network members have drawn handguns to stop an attacker. Defensive display was sufficient to stop the danger and no shots were fired.
We saw this first during the early months of 2011, when a member’s dad called to ask our help after his son had been jailed in a large Southern city. Our member had drawn his pistol to defend himself against multiple aggressors with whom he initially came in contact because they were trespassing in his apartment building.
Most of these incidents have arisen in public places–in one, a member and his wife were threatened in a parking lot; another member was pursued down a city street by an angry motorist. Another time, a disabled veteran was threatened by several young men at a public venue. Another member went to the defense of his fiancée’s mom who was threatened by a neighbor after a minor fender-bender outside their home in a Southwestern state. Our member held his gun at his side pointed at the ground, but the neighbor alleged that he pointed it at him and police arrested our member.
A surprising number of conflicts arise in neighborhoods over dogs! Regular readers will remember the story we told over several editions of this journal at the beginning of last year about a PA man attacked by his neighbor in the street outside his home. While he was not our member at the time of the incident so not eligible for help from our Legal Defense Fund, our Network President Marty Hayes was on the defense team and wanted members to learn from the many lessons that case offered. The attacker alleged that the man’s dogs were defecating in his yard and stated he would kill the dogs and harm the man’s girlfriend in an ongoing campaign of harassment.
Years earlier, we had paid an attorney to get a member out of jail and defend him against a complaint that he pointed his gun at neighbors who confronted him about his dog’s droppings on their side of a shared property line. The member was a disabled veteran, who was knocked to the ground by several members of the neighbor’s family during the confrontation.
A few years later, a member in a large PA city shot an attacking dog in a no-shooting zone and called to ask us what he should do to protect himself legally; we paid an attorney to consult with him so he had a strategy if the situation boiled up into something bigger. It did not. Often when members have questions about engaging an attorney’s services after a use of force incident, they call Network President Marty Hayes for the benefit of his perspective and he is happy to help them gauge the situation and understand their options so they can make better post-incident choices.
In a Western state, a member shot at a large, aggressive dog owned by occupants of a known “drug house” in his neighborhood. We offered the local affiliated attorney a fee for a short consultation but when the member called and told her what had happened, she declined payment. This busy criminal defense attorney gave the member the time he needed to talk out his situation but said there wasn’t much an attorney could do at the moment and she said that she was happy to talk to our member to relieve his anxiety.
This kind of generosity has benefitted Network members several times over the past decade, although realistically, we’ve been ready to write a check because when consulting with an attorney, we expect to pay for their expertise. These attorneys’ sympathy toward their fellow armed citizens has been truly touching.
The situation was much graver in a Southern state many years ago when a member discharged his weapon during a violent home invasion. He was shot and hospitalized and hired a local attorney of his acquaintance to protect his legal rights. No charges were filed. The Network was happy to pay that attorney’s bill and, impressed with his responsiveness to our member, we tried to recruit the lawyer as an affiliated attorney. He turned out to be a retired attorney who agreed to help our member in his hour of need but didn’t want to do that kind of work regularly. Our member recovered and has gone on with his life, much to our relief.
Only three times in the past decade have Network members faced such danger that they shot and killed aggressors. The seriousness and long-lasting after-effects of having to choose between the life of a violent attacker and yours or that of your family is very private and in defiance of many, many requests for these kinds of stories, we will never hound survivor members to tell us their story for publication. The only exception is a member who told his story to a national magazine columnist as well as on his personal blog and then spoke candidly with us, telling the story that comprises the second half of the article at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/network-track-record. As further precaution against inadvertently suggesting a path to a big civil liability award for survivors, that report relies heavily on an interview with the Network affiliated attorney who represented that member. In other words, although we’ve paid legal expenses on behalf of three Network family members who have had to kill attackers, it is not an experience about which we’d rush to publish an article on the Internet.
Our silence on these cases confounds many, some of whom have exclaimed, “If I can’t ask how you did with members you represented [a factual error in itself, as we pay member’s legal teams, not represent them], how can I believe you’re any good?” While I’m not going to turn an inquisitive public loose on a survivor/member, the fact is that the only way to know how the Network treats its family members is in the Network’s history of assisting these members. After the member who was injured and survived the violent home invasion was released from the hospital, he penned a note of gratitude–
I was recently involved in a self-defense shooting. I thank God for leading me to your website and I thank Him for you and your team.
The educational videos were the most helpful; especially the part that discussed the aftereffects and the emotional roller coaster my family and I would have to deal with. I was so relieved to hear your voice on the other end of the phone telling me that you were going to do all that your brochure had promised.
Even though I was attacked on my own property and was the only one with a gunshot wound, the police roped off my property and my truck for three days calling it a crime scene, which hindered my transportation and work.
Up until yesterday rumors were out that the police intended to charge me with aggravated assault, which had me slightly concerned until they returned my weapon and holster to me yesterday afternoon. Thank you so much for all that you do.
We believe our member said all that needs to be said.
To read more of this month's journal, please click here.