A question

Many of the readers here at Gun Nuts have permits to carry a concealed firearm.  So I’d like to ask those of you that do carry the following question.  Would you intervene, as a private citizen (active duty LEO is excluded, sorry) in any of the following situations:

  • You’re eating at a restaurant with your family and a group of shooters burst in to the restaurant and light it up, Mumbai-style.
  • You see a 3rd party being violently attacked and in clear threat of death or grievous bodily harm.
  • You see a young mother having her child forcibly ripped away from her by an obvious bad man.

Assume for the sake of argument that in all the above situations the bad guys are clear, the good guys are obvious, you’re carrying your regular carry gun, and lethal force is clearly justified.  We assume that to remove any pedantry from the discussion, since the thrust of the question is more “would you assist a bystander in need if violent force was justified”.


  1. YES, i will intervine (after calling 911). And i will do anything to protect my self or my family at any time

  2. Short answer: yes

    Long answer: first priority is my wife and kids. If assisting the person will not put them in more danger, than yes. If not, I’ll try to get them somewhere safe and, if circumstances still permit/require it, I’ll try to lend whatever help I can.

  3. Yes. In a heart beat. My gf even knows what to do if I slap leather. (Which is run out the fire exit and go to the car while calling the police.)

  4. So my question – does having your gun on you versus not change whether you would intervene?

    For me it honestly doesn’t, although it obviously changes my available options and therefore my likely tactics.

    I’m in, 100% and hopefully if I get shot I distracted him long enough for someone else to take him out.

  5. In the first two, definitely. In the third instance, I’d probably observe and follow the guy while the cops made their way to the location.

    The situation you described could be a domestic situation and unless the ‘obvious bad guy’ is using a weapon and/or threatening the child or the mother, i’ll stay clear. I’d certainly follow and relay information to the dispatcher, but I’d wait for the cops on that one.

  6. In the first hypothetical encounter, I would get into the fight immediately. My wife (who does not have a permit) would then grab the children and attempt to escape, calling for help at the first opportunity.

    In the second and third cases, if I’m alone then yes. If I’m with my wife, then yes. If I’m the only one with my children, it may not be possible for me to get directly involved without putting them at undue risk.

    1. I concur, in cases 2 and 3, if the family was along, then probably not until they were in a safe area.

  7. Scenario #1
    I’m all in. I’d call for someone to call 911, and then throw down, while moving away from my table (to minimize risk towards my people).

    Scenario #2
    Again, all in, trying for a bloodless ending.

    Scenario #3
    Hoist the Raven banner! Do not allow the Tango to get a hostage/shield.

    Not having my piece on me would affect my decision not at all, only my tactics. Even when I don’t have my piece on me, I’ve always got my blade. And if not the blade, then the pocket folder, and the leatherman, and field expedient table weapons.

    Remember, the corolary to Rauðbjørn’s Axiom: The only dangerous weapon is you.

  8. Nico, read Caleb’s last paragraph again.

    However I do agree. I think mostl of us would check the the guns holstered until the perp became violent or displayed a weapon.

    I disagree about non-confrontation. I would “get involved” but leave it at a Verbal Level until things clear out. If the suspicious person says he has custody but mom says he does not, then he better wait for the police to show up.

    Preventing a kidnapping (iirc) is one of the few cases people can use violence where there is not immediate threat of bodily harm because there is a high risk of eventual harm (jurisdiction depending).

    [BTW: I am NOT a lawyer, so I can’t go into any details.]

    Hope this helps.

  9. Interesting questions. My CC instructor consulted his attorney who advised that using lethal force could jeopardize your house, your cars, all the money you have in the bank and your kids’ educations. ” Have at least $20,000 down-payment for your legal defense” was part of the attorney’s advice. His advice was to only protect yourself and your own. I would want to be sure I didn’t endanger my family or escalate the situation. From there it would be hard to say.

    1. And I think this is part of why, although this poses and important question, it is one that will rarely come up.

      Most situations involving helping another person are nowhere close to this clear-cut, and the more the uncertainty increases the more the weight of that consequence should be felt.

      Still, in the few clear cases… it’s a classic ethics problem. Would you kill someone for that $20,000 payment to your lawyer? But you might allow them to die…

      In a Mumbai style situations, I would argue that it is *very* unlikely you will require a significant defense fund, and if you did I’m sure you would find plenty of people willing to donate.

      The other two are more likely to be murky… but again, for the exercise, we are told to not consider that. Therefore it becomes a direct risk of your life/$20k/house/car versus a stranger’s life.

      Of course, no one considers it quite as heroic to sell their house to pay for a stranger’s heart transplant.

      Personally I see emergency situations as one of the situations where, because of the time-sensitivity of their nature, if you are there you are the only one who can do something, therefore you are responsible for what is in front of you. If someone is in distress in my immediate area I am morally bound to aid them, as I would hope they would aid me, as there is possible no one else to do so.

  10. Thank goodness that in AZ there is a Good Samaritan law that states specifically that if a person was justified in using deadly force to protect themselves, then a bystander is justified to use deadly force for them! It also prevents someone who is in the commission of a crime from making any money from that crime (or their estate or heirs), so the lawyer thing isn’t as big a deal here.

    So, to answer: yes. Yes. Yes. Granted you’ve set up simple scenarios, the answer is that I defend my family first, my life second, and follow the command of Jesus (as best I can) to love my neighbor as myself and defend them too.

  11. Only in the first case can I say yes I definitely would. In the other 2 cases I don’t know. I guess that means no for the last 2.

  12. Yep.

    Those are the short answers, given that you asked for a response having stipulated the absolute clarity of each situation.

    The real discussion comes when the waters are muddied by reality.

  13. My family is top priority, so first case what have I got to lose? On cases two and three, only if I can interfere without risking the lives of myself or my family.

    My rule is that I will only assist a 3rd party if I can do so without putting extra life, including my own, at risk.

  14. The first one without a doubt: if someone is going to endanger my life and the lives of those I care about I have no doubt.

    The second is a little murkier: I think in that moment, though, I would make a panicked decision. I have no idea what panicked decision I would make, knowing the physical, financial and social risk incurred by these actions. It may be selfish but I am not overtly willing to sacrifice the life I have built. I don’t know how I’d act. Besides, chances are I’d be with someone else who’s carrying, and my actions would be largely based on theirs.

    The third situation I would call the police and find out as much about the situation as possible.
    As for the third,

  15. Scenario 1 – Maybe. My first thought would be to get myself and my family out. I would be willing to draw and shoot to accomplish that goal, but would not be looking to avoid a gunfight with men armed with rifles when all I have is a pistol.

    Scenario 2 – Sounds gang related to me. Would leave the area and call police.

    Scenario 3 – Observe and report to police. Sounds like a domestic case to me, and I will not get involved in a domestic.

    A long time ago, I read Evan Marsall’s “The Dangers of Intervention” essay. I think it a useful reality check to “sheepdogs”.


  16. 1. (There is a way out) – No, my wife leads the kids out, I cover our rear. If I leave her alone to get the kids out while I fight, she could run into another Goblin and now we are split up with her fighting for our kids alone.

    Once my family is clear, I would stay behind to try and keep the exit clear for others.

    1. (No exit for us) – Yes. I have the wife ‘n kids bunker down as best possible and I start fighting. Being outnumbered, I’ll probably die, but hopefully my family lives.

    2. If I am alone/have someone to take the kids out of there, then yes.

    3. Same as 2.

    Any of those three could easily get me killed, but in 1 I have no choice, and I couldn’t live with myself if I did nothing in 2 and 3. Again, assuming 2 and 3 are clear as crystal good/bad situations.

  17. If there is no direct threat to my life or lives of my family members, then it’s not my problem to get involved in. I have a cell phone which will better handle other peoples problems and sketchy situations. Sorry, this will sound harsh, but situations two and three are not my problems and won’t become my problems.

  18. Remember, it is a good thing to understand that these a clear-cut situations. The bad guys and good guys are obvious. This lets us set a Baseline.

    “What would you do if…”

    Once you have a baseline then you add variables. A real-life example would be the man screaming that it’s his weekend with the kid as the woman yells that he doesn’t have visitation rights. So you call the cops, the man leaves with the kid, and the police show up too little too late and inform you that the perp just kidnapped his own kid.

    OR… You could call the cops and tell the man to wait for then police to to arrive. Explain that it is in his best interest of else the mother might report a DV and have his visitation rights revoked because this thing looks bad for him. The man then grabs the kid goes to his car shoves the kid in as he gets in.

    At this point you can (now) ask yourself what would need to happen for you to use violence.

    But we cannot do that until you know what you would do in a extreme case.

    You can’t discuss a “line-in-the-sand” without knowing what you will do when/if you cross it.

  19. #1 for sure
    #2 & #3 If it were clear, but in real life it is seldom clear, but intervene yes, if it were clear, what the heck was going on. By intervening you would be showing deadly force, and likely in most instances stop the problem with having to press the trigger

  20. If it’s not so obvious….


    “…When you pull and use a gun, you are gambling literally everything you have on getting it right during the event and being legally justified afterward. You are gambling your physical life. You are betting your job, your home, and every penny you have in the bank. At risk is your marriage, your ability to share a bed with the person you love, and your ability to watch your children grow up in person instead of from jail. You place on the table every friendship you’ve ever made, every dollar you’ve ever earned or will earn, and your family’s future happiness. You are risking sleep disturbances, flashbacks, nightmares, impotence, anorexia, alcoholism, drug reliance, and a long and bitter lifetime of regret if you get it wrong. That is the gamble you take when you use a firearm against another human being.

    To take a gamble that big, it’s a good idea to be overwhelmingly certain there’s no other way out.

    Is the life of a stranger worth a gamble that size? Depending on your personal morals, maybe he is. But never ever ever in an ambiguous situation, especially when you didn’t see the prelude and don’t know the players. “

  21. First one, yes. Two, I would probably draw and give a warning, three, I would intervene without drawing. What that would entail, I couldn’t say.

  22. Answering the scenarios exactly as stated (no “what iffery” concerning my spouse…)

    Yes, yes and yes. All three situations, at least in my state of residence, are clearly within my rights to intervene. Grievous bodily harm, or death, are potential in all three.

    Now, in situation #1, I shoot until the threat is gone. Situation #2, I begin with a verbal command and go from there. Same with situation #3 though kidnappings are highly problematic so it is difficult to say how quickly I’d transition to lethal use.

    1. I do think Clint has a good point, though – start from base fantasy principles, and then work your way up the levels of mud from there.

  23. The reason why I’ve decided to arm myself if to protect myself and my loved ones, so our safety will always be my priority.

    Once they are safe(r), I would intervene in all three scenarios.

  24. Knowing what I know after reading in magazines about people getting involved in incidents only to find out later that things were not as they appeared, I would at first hesitate to get involved at all, and I would immediately call 911 to bet the police to the scene as quickly as possible, however, if it was an obvious life or death situation, as a citizen of the United States of America, I think it would be “my responsibility” to get involved if I had the ability to change the outcome of the situation.

    After all, isn’t that the primary reason why carry in the first place?

  25. I would be inclined to help.

    Is the assailant armed? How so? That would affect my decision, but not govern it. My and my own’s safety comes first.

    Although, there is always the cash damages award if you get hurt (I joke, but it’s true): http://tinyurl.com/27gsbm3

  26. Number 1: I’d do whatever was most prudent to protect my family. If shooting back is best, that’s what I’d do. If there’s a clear path to an exit, I’m getting them out.

    Number 2: If it’s that clear, definitely. My rule of thumb is that I’m not intervening at all unless I’m so certain of who the bad guy is that I’m willing to open fire without a word of warning.

    Number 3: Hell no. That “obviously bad guy” could be the father that has legal custody, and the woman may be the kidnapper.

  27. With those assumptions in place (and removing the possibility of the aggressor in option two being a plainclothes police officer performing his duty), yes, I would assist. The legalities of 2 and 3 are complicated (at least so far as I have bothered to pay attention), but it would still be the right thing to do, and I like to think others would do the same for me or mine in similar circumstances. 1 puts my family and I in direct threat, so it is something of a no-brainer :). And in all cases, Better Half, if she was with me, would be calling the cops…

  28. situation 1 yes, situation 2 yes. ” i acted to preserve the life of myself or others” and i think situation 3 would be dependent. depending on how the suspect reacted to a verbal challenge would determine my actions.

  29. 1. Yes, yes, yes, keeping in mind I would have to wait and make sure I can make my limited rounds count. My carry option at times limits me to 7 rounds.
    2. & 3 are tough questions to answer hypothetically. I will say that if a firearm was the only answer and If I was sure I could resolve the situation with lethal force as apposed to endangering an innocent I would do it yes.

  30. 1: of course.
    2: I would intervene, but stepping in guns blazing seems unwise.
    3: shooting sure isn’t going to help matters, and I don’t know the story. Call the cops, provide information as available.

    If I didn’t have a gun, the intent would be the same but the ability (and thus the final decision) would be different. I’d be foolish to attack a group of shooters with a pocket knife, for example.

    Now, the scenario says “obviously bad man”, “clearly justified”, etc. If it truly were (e.g., the young mother were a friend of mine) then I would shoot in all three circumstances. The problem is that real life is rarely so obvious: maybe the “obviously bad man” is actually retrieving a child that the crazed young ‘mother’ just abducted. It doesn’t directly apply, but “first, do no harm”.

  31. Yes, I would use my personal Weapon to intervene, but I would probably refrain from pulling the trigger immediately on #3, because the child would become a Human Shield, and my target zone would have to be a Head Shot. As for 1+2, Center Mass, Front to Back A.S.A.P.

  32. Assuming it’s me alone, and I can act without fear of endangering my loved ones, then yes to all three.

    If I have wife and daughter with me, then still a definite yes to #1. If they’re intent on shooting the place up, I;d rather die going forward than cowering over my loved ones while they shoot me in the back.

  33. I do agree that the whole “family” issue does cloud things up. I would do anything to protect my family, and the people I care about, even if that “anything” includes “dying”. However, I tend to feel like my desire to protect my loved ones is better served by (ahem) “slayin’ frickin’ bodies” so dying not’s on the list.

  34. #1: life of myself and my family is in danger, so the answer is YES

    #2: given the information in the question, the answer is NO. The ‘3rd party’ needs to be a bit more important for me to intervene than some guy on the street.

    #3: Hell NO. “Obviously bad man” would not keep me out of jail, if I made the wrong choice.

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