Important safety tip: Whether from the air, sea, or land, be sure that you correctly identify your target before taking action against it. History is replete with examples of tragic fratricide incidents. Aircraft use Interrogation Friend or Foe (IFF) to differentiate between good guys and bad guys. Ships use flags and markings. Military ground forces use a variety of methods. The options decrease and chances of fratricide increase with the speed of engagement. Aircraft usually have precious little time at 450 knots, while ships and ground forces usually have more depending on circumstances.
On the civilian side, most uses of firearms in defensive situations, though not all, involve individuals who have been involved in the situation from the start. That minimises the chance of engagement errors if shooting becomes necessary. One must be very careful if choosing to intervene in a situation that one hasn’t seen from the beginning. The psychological and financial price of engaging the wrong target can be very high.
Law enforcement usually does not have that luxury. They seldom see situations from the start and must come to some judgement about situations which they either encounter or are sent into by dispatchers – an unenviable task. Exercising good judgement in such circumstances can prevent needless tragedies.
Of course, not all the armed good guys are in a uniform. Undercover officers, off-duty officers, and legally armed citizens all carry firearms. Every armed individual, law enforcement or civilian, must exercise very careful judgement before hostilely engaging an armed individual in a free society.
A classic case in point happened on Long Island recently. Tragically, John Capano,an off-duty ATF agent, was shot and killed by Lt. Chris Geraghty, an off-duty officer who responded to an ambiguous situation and unfortunately chose to shoot without any clear evidence of who the good and bad guys were. No one was in uniform, but neither was there a reason to shoot in a hurry.
While Lt. Geraghty obviously feels awful about killing an innocent man, that doesn’t bring anyone back to their loved ones.
This occasionally happens in home defense situations. Remember the SWAT crew in Arizona that killed Jose Guerena, a Marine veteran who thought that he was defending his home against home invaders. A SWAT member fired an errant shot that cause the SWAT crew to panic and fire 71 rounds at Guerena. The Marine never fired a shot.
For defense situations at night, one should always keep a working flashlight handy with which to identify potential targets. Never shoot at shapes or shadows.
The lesson here is for anyone responding to an ambiguous situation to take great care to be sure who the good and bad guys are. Better to either have everyone disarm and sort it out, or to just take a few seconds to consider all aspects, than to shoot and possibly kill an innocent person. The courts have repeatedly ruled that mere possession of a firearm is not reasonable articulable suspicion much less probable cause that a crime is in progress or has been committed. The conscience and wallet you save just might be your own.