Use of Force

On the night of February 26 2012, 28 year old George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed 17 year old Trayvon Martin with a single gunshot in Sanford, Florida. Since then, little information made available has been credible or without spin.


We constantly see these stories pulled from the pool of idiocy known as the media every day: “Unarmed Man Shot By Homeowner,”  “Woman Kills Unarmed Man in Struggle,” “Two Stabbed in Bar-Room Brawl” and of course, “Han Solo Shoots Greedo first.”  Etc, Etc.


These headlines hit our news feed, enticing our curiosity with outrageous tales of death and mayhem. The public, who have latched on to the bits of altered information begin clamoring for justice- Damn the facts!  Soon, celebrities get involved, voicing their uneducated opinions while calling for blood of those they hold responsible even before the shell casings have been logged into evidence.  (Author Note: Laser Blasters do not leave behind shell casings. A fact contributed to the hung jury in the case of Empire v. Solo after a shooting on Tatooine….and the State of Massachusetts calling for a ban on all laser blasters.)




This is where we as the responsible person need to take a step back from the onslaught of ass-hattery and hype and get back to our roots of sanity.


I have never been a fan of the “Use of Force Continuum” as the sole foundation of instruction in the vast world of use of force like I was subjected to as a member of the USAF Military Police Corps but I do find it valuable as a place to start when trying to explain the wilds and intricacies of Constitutional Use of Force to the uninitiated.  (See Fig 1)  (Author Note: Han Solo Use of Force Continuum is not a pyramid….it is a bright red square that says, “Shoot First.”)


Now that I brought that model into your life….or just reminded you of it again (sorry), it is important you know that I am not writing to discuss, teach or evaluate your understanding of this particular piece of use of force history.  What I do want you to do is take heed of the cool colors and arrows, the neat layout and artistic ambiance that draws “oohs” and “aahs” from LEOs and military members the world over. (See: Sarcasm.) (Author Note: Sarcasm toward a Wookie is not recommended.)


With the knowledge that the Use of Force Continuum model is pretty and that it is not smart to tease Wookies, I would ask you to take a look at the very top of the Use of Force model…..and forget all the rest for the remainder of this blurb.


(For those of you who have suffered through the “Grey area” with me in the Less Lethal classes…take a deep breath and relaaaaxxxx for a bit- this next part is easy…


The Red. Red is dead. Better dead than Red. Big Red. Red.


Red is a very emotional color for us and for good reasons.  For those of us who train in the true American Martial Art of Shooting, we know that when red is visible, lethal fire is soon to follow.


The same is true for this model.  To be “in the red”- A lethal attack is in progress or imminent. And likewise our response must be tailored to match.


For an incident or action to find itself in the red, it must match the very important following criteria: “Any action or imminent action that would cause death or serious bodily harm to another.”


To check yourself on categorizing an action with this definition, you need only take a lesson from the Law Enforcement community and borrow the term, “Reasonable Officer” and modify it for us who exist in the realm of “Reasonable Person.”


What this means is that you take the action or situation and ask, “Would anybody else that had all the information I had/have at this moment feel in danger of death or serious bodily harm?” Society has people that do this for us in the form of Officers, Prosecutors, Jurors and the public.  By answering our internal query and finding a, “yes” as the response- sets us up for success after the fight in the street (Or in a bar on Tatooine) when the question is asked to the above individuals in a formal setting- Sitting in a suit and arguing your case is important- but what is more important is surviving the encounter in the street.


There is a common thread within the uneducated public (and an instructor that I had in Technical Training at the Military Police academy) where people believe that force can only be used to defend ones-self as long as the tool used in the defense matches the tool being used to take their life. (Author Note: I was specifically told by a Law Enforcement instructor that if a bad-guy was threatening me with a knife, using a firearm was not authorized in my defense.)

This is the part of the conversation where if you are looking at the person who said this you have a few choices. You can:


–          Walk away

–          Point and laugh

–          Execute facepalm

–          Point at facepalm while walking into executed laughter


So maybe those responses are what you want to do, but like a small child trying to read “A Tale of Two Cities,” we need to carefully help them get rid of their comprehension headache and get them a lollipop and a classic like, “Fun with Dick and Jane” while we build up their foundation of understanding regarding the use of force. (or “Nerf-Herding for Dummies”)


To assist our friends and family that for far too long have been fed the wrong information, we find ourselves at the very title of this article: M3.


Quite simply, when faced with a lethal attack, the MANNER and MEANS of our defense become MOOT. (M3)  What this means is that if your life is in danger*, you may use a brick, stick, sledgehammer, parakeet, Prius, anvil, tomahawk, firearm, pocketknife, T-pain, action figure, grand piano, etc, etc. to defend yourself and stop the life-threatening action. (*Note: This is where understanding of Constitutional Use of Force and acting as a Reasonable Person come are critical. See: MDFI Facebook Note “Road Rage Response.”)




Let’s take a look at those headlines again:


“Unarmed Man Shot By Homeowner.”


A man wakes up at 2 am to the sound of breaking glass. Knowing that his two daughters are asleep down the hallway, he grabs his handgun and flashlight and leaves his bedroom.  In the kitchen, he encounters a shadowy figure in the darkness. At the same time he illuminates a masked male, he issues a verbal challenge to “Freeze.”  The intruder spins rapidly on the homeowner who, in fearing for his life shoots his assailant who turns out to be un-armed.


“Woman Kills Unarmed Man in Struggle.”


A young woman leaving a movie theater late by herself is getting into the drivers side of her vehicle in the virtually empty parking lot of the local cinema.  As she is closing the door, she hears rapidly approaching footsteps just as her car door is flung open and a large male grabs her by her hair, wrenching her out of the vehicle.  Instinctively, she grabs for the small knife she had on her jean pocket and stabs out at her attacker.  She later describes the feeling as, “A kitchen knife through meat on the cutting board.” The assailant makes a muffled scream, grabs the knife from her hands and runs off into the darkness. Police find the lifeless body of a male matching the description of the attacker 200yds away in a field.


“Two Stabbed in Bar-Room Brawl.”


A man and woman were enjoying a drink at a local pub when two intoxicated men started making inappropriate remarks towards the female. When the couple decided it was time to leave, the two men stood in the way – blocking them as they tried to depart.  When one of the men attempted to grab the woman, her companion steps in between and shoves the assailant backwards.  Having failed at his first attack, the assailant grabs a pool cue, snapping it into two sharp pieces.  After tossing one half to one of his accomplices, the two men lunge towards the couple who are met with the man armed with his pocket knife. (Per state law his firearm was locked in his vehicle)  One subject was arrested and treated at the scene and the second subject was later arrested while seeking treatment at a local hospital.  Both of the victims were treated at the scene for shock and released.


And of course, our opener:


On the night of February 26 2012, 28 year old George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed 17 year old Trayvon Martin with a single gunshot in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman stated he was attacked by Martin and during the course of the attack, Martin continually beat his head into the concrete.  Fearing for his life, Zimmerman drew and fired a single shot from his KelTec Pf-9 9mm handgun into Martin, killing him.


Based on the rule of M3- the means of the defense (KelTec 9mm) is moot if indeed the story is as told. (this task falls on the Law Enforcement Investigators charged with piecing the events together) Where we as the public must separate ourselves like the headlines and stories above is:


Was Lethal Force authorized in accordance with Constitutional Use of Force principles and did the individual act as a Responsible Person PRIOR to the event?


The issue is NOT whether either of the parties was armed or not.  Where many individuals find themselves in hot water is when the defense was appropriate, but their actions preceding the event were not.


Comprehending M3 is just a small part of the Whole Person Concept but it is critical in the split second we have to save life as nothing is too out of bounds to stop a threat and make it home to our loved ones.


As always- stay safe and keep training!



Wookie beats paper

Wookie beats paper.


Use of Force

Fig 1. One of the many versions of the Use of Force Continuum




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