I have written a number of posts about the conditions under which a person can and cannot legally use deadly force in self-defense. Much of my understanding of this comes from Massad Ayoob’s course “Armed Citizen’s Rules of Engagement” (a.k.a. MAG-40), as well as Andrew Branca’s “Law of Self-Defense” course and book.
A key to thinking about justifiable use of deadly force is the “AOJ Triad.” As I have noted previously, AOJ stands for Ability, Opportunity, and Jeopardy. These are not part of the law, but are criteria by which a reasonable person can judge whether a situation justifies the use of deadly force.
Does the person have the power to kill or inflict grave bodily harm (ABILITY), such as carrying a gun? Is the person capable of immediately employing the power to kill or inflict grave bodily harm (OPPORTUNITY), such as close proximity? Does the person use words and/or actions that would lead a reasonable and prudent person to conclude that the person intended to kill or cripple them (JEOPARDY)? The person merely possessing a weapon does not in itself constitute jeopardy. Intent has to be manifest in the person’s words and/or actions.
I hadn’t thought about the AOJ triad for a while, so I was surprised when watching a reality-based police TV show to see a person being detained invoke the AOJ triad to explain why the detaining officer did not need to fear him, despite the fact that he did not disclose that he was carrying a concealed handgun.
The police in this case pulled over a car for failing to make a complete stop and asked the driver to get out of the car because they said the could smell the odor of marijuana in the car. The driver said there was no marijuana in the car and got out calmly. The police officer proceeded to put him against the car to pat him down. During the pat down the officer found a handgun holstered in the person’s waistband in the small of his back (pictured above), as well as a bag of marijuana and cash in his sweatpants pockets.
When the police officer went into a higher state of alert upon finding the gun, the gun owner noted that he was not resisting and asked the officer why he had to “go so high” with his arm behind his back. The officer responded “in case you want to get silly.”
A bit later in the video, quite interestingly to me, the person being detained invoked the AOJ triad to explain why the officer did not have a reasonable fear of death of grave bodily harm despite the presence of a gun. See the video below shot from my TV, or the longer video on the TV network’s site here.
He admits that he has the capability because he is carry a gun, and of course the opportunity given his proximity, but claims that he had no intent to use the gun against the officer — and hence the “jeopardy” leg of the deadly force triad was not present. The officer countered that he had “no clue” as to the person’s intentions, reminding us that the jeopardy leg of the AOJ triad is the most subjective.
It seems apparent that this person has received some training in the use of deadly force in self-defense, though seemingly not great training because I think most trainers I know would tell students they should disclose to a police officer that they are carrying a concealed handgun if the officer is having them get out of the car. (As to whether you are legally obligated to disclose this upon first contact with law enforcement, see Concealed Nation’s review of state laws.)
The other fascinating aspect of this scenario to me is that it reaffirms one of James D. Wright’s “Ten Essential Observations on Guns in America”: “The bad guys inhabit a violent world; a gun often makes a life-or-death difference to them.” Indeed, recent research on inmates in Los Angeles and Chicago has found that a primary reason for gun ownership is the need for self-defense. Not surprisingly, then, the driver noted in his conversation with the police officer that he had the gun “for my safety, for real.” And if he was in fact a drug dealer, he certainly inhabited a more dangerous world than the average licensed concealed carrier in the United States.