by Chuck Klein
Most all states (and the federal government) forbid anyone who has been judged mentally unstable or incompetent to purchase or carry a loaded firearm. But what about those who already have their concealed carry license and then become cerebrally incapable, sans adjudication? As the nation of carriers ages this issue could become a focal point that might best be addressed before it evolves into a significant crisis. Now that concealed carry is widespread, I’m sure many oldsters are already facing the predicament of serious memory loss – loss that may include forgetting when lethal force is legally acceptable.
This is not about “crazy” people, but regular, decent, law-abiding citizens who develop age-related mental challenges. Case in point: Not long ago, I learned a life-long friend was experiencing symptoms of dementia (Alzheimer’s disease). I have talked with this person on the phone every day for the past 20-plus years and before that on a very regular basis dating back to high school. An esoteric phone call to his wife confirmed my suspicions; he was developing serious memory difficulties. Because we live over an hour apart, I needed a plan as he not only has a license to carry a concealed firearm, but does so every day.
During one of our daily phone conversations, I recommended we meet for lunch. In mentioning restaurants, it was clear he was having trouble remembering how to drive to the locations. I volunteered to pick him up. Once seated at the eatery and the small talk out of the way, I suggested we play the old game of “what would you do if…” I had developed a situational mental game in my mind over the past few days to learn if my friend remembered the lessons learned from his concealed carry class—taken over ten years ago. I ran this scenario by him:
You are standing next to your car in a shopping center parking lot when you hear a disturbance. Turning to look, you see a—man about your size but half your age (my friend is 74), beating another person with a 2×4. The man is across a driving lane, about 25 feet from you. He sees you looking at him, raises the 2×4, screams he’s going to kill you and then begins to advance. Do you:
- A) Draw your weapon and shoot him;
- B) Run away;
- C) Draw your handgun and fire a warning shot before shooting him;
- D) Draw your weapon and shoot to wound him?
(Answers and commentary below)
I repeated the scenario and options twice to make sure he understood.
At first my friend didn’t want to answer, but when I pushed and implied he might be tested when he applies to renew his carry license [not true], he tendered a response. It was clear he seemed confused when finally replying that he’d run away, but immediately continued on that he would fire a warning shot before trying to get into his car.
I had to tell him these are not the correct answers and it is time to stop carrying his handgun. He was not pleased and said he wouldn’t even consider surrendering his handgun. Later, when we returned to his home, I told him again—in front of his wife—he should forgo packing heat as there are worse things than being killed; one of which is going to prison for manslaughter.
I’m having a hard time deciding what I can/should do—if anything. I sure don’t want my lifelong friend to harm an innocent person, be jailed for carrying in a place he shouldn’t, or be killed with his own gun.
Some of my options include (none of which I can wrap my mind around):
- a) Physically take the gun from him;
- b) With the help of his wife, remove all of his guns from his home and when he’s sleeping take his regular carry gun;
- c) Report my (non-professional) opinion to the licensing authority (I don’t know if there is anything they can or would do);
- d) Surreptitiously exchange the live ammo in his carry gun with dummy rounds.
Civilians legally carrying firearms in public are a recent phenomenon of less than a generation. Seniors, as much or more than others, need firearms for personal protection; they, as a group, are also more prone to debilitating mental conditions. Now that the baby-boomers are reaching full maturity the questions arise: Should they be subject to testing? Should states administer tests (such as above) to those reaching a certain age level? Is this any different than a breathalyzer, airport body scan? Driver’s license eye exam? Does this subject need more discussion? A lot of questions?
A few weeks later, I had him out to my farm where we took to the gun range. After inspecting his .38 S&W Centennial, which I found to be relatively free of lint, corrosion or dirt, I placed him at the 7-yard line. For the first five shots—slow-fire, using both hands—he was unable to hit the silhouette target. Loading the cylinder with only three rounds, he showed a tendency to flinch when the hammer fell on an empty chamber. After a couple of cylinders full of 148-grain, LWC practice rounds and re-indoctrination of proper grip and sight picture, he scored hits on the target, but sans grouping—the hits were scattered all over the target and backboard.
Next, we walked to the contact distance of about 5-feet where I instructed him to bring the gun to the chest-ready position. He seemed confused as he kept putting the gun far out in front of his chest. I unloaded the gun and then after a few tries he got the mechanics of holding the revolver close to his chest with both hands, and upon my command, extended the gun fully and fired a double-tap. About ten live- rounds later he had struck the target multiple times, but, again the hits were all over the place—not grouped at all.
Though it had been a few years since we last shot together, our shooting days go back over 50 years. My concerns have now deepened, but I still don’t know what, if anything, I can or should do as a friend, an NRA instructor or as a fellow citizen worried about the safety of others.
I write and send out a weekly email message/editorial to about 300 recipients. A recent dispatch included the above parking lot scenario with a link to the answers and explanations. I received a lot of feed-back, but most interesting were comments from those who are clearly not familiar with self-defense or the use, limits and abilities of a handgun.
Some of the replies to my email (My response to each in italics):
“I would have tried to call 911, then shot him!” (Okay, we’ll assume the 2×4 wielder is no Olympic sprinter and to cover the 25 feet would take him, 4 seconds. Which means you will need two seconds to grab your cell from a pocket, one second for the phone to boot, one second to punch in 911 and wait for a response … and a 5th second to tell the dispatcher to send an ambulance—for you.)
“I would say that 25 feet is a little distant for unloading my Glock on the guy considering there may be other people in the background.” (Can’t hit a man-size target at 25 feet and closing? Perhaps you need some practice or a reality check on time and distance.)
“You shoot the 2×4 out of his hand like the Lone Ranger would have done.” (Ah, shucks, why didn’t I think of that.)
“If a warning shot wouldn’t deter him from coming at me, he is going to receive two quick shots.” (Hmm. Draw and fire, 2-seconds. Wait to determine if the thug has stopped, then … keep that ambulance comin’.)
“It depends on how fast he & his 2X4 are advancing, a nice ricochet to pavement in front of his approach might do more than warn him.” (My favorite! I haven’t mastered the bounced shot yet, perhaps you could instruct me.)
“How fast is he moving?” (Brilliant plan. Two seconds to whip out your radar detector, two seconds to obtain a reading, and $200 to replace it after the 2×4 smashed it just before crushing your head.)
“If time to do so, enter your car and call 9-1-1. If not, fire a warning shot.” (Golly gee, he’s already swinging the 2×4 at me and I’m still fishing for my keys to unlock the car door—Kings, Times, Ollie, Ollie income free.)
Now, we not only have the original problem of what to do about concealed carriers who are experiencing mental and/or physical conditions that may be dangerous to themselves and the public, per se but …
A new issue: How best to educate our fellow citizens. The email response from these decent law-abiding Americans is troubling because they not only vote, but they might be impaneled on a jury that decides our fate—directly, via the media and/or case law.
The respondents all seem to have difficulty with reality and of the ones I personally know, many hold a college degree. In further email correspondence with some of those who replied, it was evident they failed to visit the provided link to view the correct answer and the explanations. Did they believe they were so smart they could ignore the writer’s reasoning? Even when I personally directed some to the link, they continued to refuse acceptance of my answers and explanations. Perhaps we should, at the very least, be thankful that these people don’t carry.
Summary: It might be best if we, the gun owners, address this issue before some oldster trips-out and wastes innocents. If that happens, you can bet the anti-gunners will be pressing to age-limit all carriers. In other words, the politicians will be pushing legislation to restrict carry/ownership by anyone over the age of 80 … 50 … 30….
- a) Correct. The man has beaten another with a weapon that can cause death or great bodily harm, he has verbally indicated he is going to harm you and he has taken action by advancing toward you. At such close distance, you might only have time to draw and fire.
- b) Wrong. My friend is 74 years old and it is doubtful he could outrun a man half his age. Even if he was younger and a world class sprinter, turning his back on a killer and trying to outrun him in a parking lot full of cars, people and shopping carts is not a good idea.
- c) Wrong. Warning shots are almost never a proper plan as an errant shot could injure an innocent person or—witnesses, after the fact, could implicate you as the aggressor.
- d) Wrong. Trying to shoot at a moving limb is most difficult especially when under the stress and pressure of defending yourself. Even police are not trained to shoot to wound. Your only strategy of defense is to stop this violent person and shooting for center mass is the best way to accomplish this goal.
If you had problems with the informal Q&A, perhaps it’s time to have your own mental capacities evaluated. Let’s see now, where did I last see my glasses?
Chuck Klein is an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor, active member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) and author of Instinct Combat Shooting, Defensive Handgunning for Police and other firearm related articles, columns and books.