With the passage of Illinois’ concealed carry law, all fifty states now offer their citizens some sort of opportunity to legally carry a concealed firearm. The intent of these laws is to allow citizens to protect themselves in life-threatening situations. Illinois’ law requires sixteen hours of training and/or approved experience to secure this right to self-defense through concealed carry. Having prepared curriculum for this training, I find there is one component of self-defense that is negligibly covered: articulation.
Training and supervising officers has given me valuable insight as to the importance of articulation. In my opinion, the chink in the armor for many police officers (as it applies to using any force) is their inability to adequately articulate why such force was necessary. This is not to say that their actions are inappropriate. Many incidents that appear to be excessive use of force on the surface prove justified when investigated further. Unfortunately, poor articulation gives the appearance of a lack of legal justification, and of deceit. If this problem plagues law enforcement officers with years of training, experience with use of force incidents, and report writing, I can only deduce that it will be worse with the general population.
As we've explained in other posts, citizens who find themselves in situations that require them to shoot someone in self-defense need to realize that, just because the suspect goes down, they may still need to defend themselves. Even though citizens don’t have to write police reports when they shoot someone, they will most likely be asked to write a statement. This statement will need to explain the entire situation and should include a description of the actions of the victim and aggressor, anyone else on-scene, and environmental conditions. This statement should cover everything preceding, during, and after the incident. Depending on the facts of the case and the skills of the officer investigating the incident, the outcome may be viewed by the legal system as justified. Or it might not. It’s risky to bet freedom and personal liability upon the competence and articulation of the officers investigating the incident. Anyone carrying a concealed handgun should be prepared to articulate the circumstances and details of an incident that matter. Below is a list of suggestions for improving your ability to articulate your use of deadly force.
Learn the Laws in Your State – The laws in your state are the foundation for your authority to use deadly force. If you do not know what the law allows, you will not know when you can legally use force, and you may make things worse in how you articulate or justify your actions. Every state has its own statutes, so it is important to know the law in the state where you are carrying a firearm.
Know Your Training – Whatever training you were required to obtain to carry a concealed firearm is something with which you should be intimately familiar. Training can be complicated, so if you are not provided with a copy of the presentation of the training you took to meet the concealed carry permit requirements, make sure you take copious notes.
Use Clear Language and Paint a Picture – If you use deadly force and the police arrive, their first question is going to be, "what happened?" This preliminary interview is done to make sure involved people are identified and interviewed, injured parties get medical treatment, evidence is secured, and a scene is preserved and processed. After a preliminary interview is conducted, the officer or an investigator will conduct another, more formal interview. During this interview, articulation is critical. It is important to use clear and direct language to paint a picture.
Focus On Relevant Information – When you articulate the circumstances of a deadly force and self-defense encounter, focus on relevant information. Perhaps citizen interviews go in a variety of directions because the citizen doesn’t know what is relevant. Any request for a summation of what occurred should focus on this incident. Any other peripheral information just serves to confuse the investigation. ("Just the facts…ma’am.")
Own Your Actions – Police officers fail to own their actions in regards to use of force for one of two reasons. Either they don’t know if their actions were justified, or they are afraid of discipline (that is: the person judging their actions doesn’t know what’s justified). If you were justified in shooting someone, say so! If your shot strikes the bad guy in the arm and that wasn’t the intended target, don’t pretend that it was! Say what you did and be honest. Claiming otherwise is a slippery slope that will open up Pandora’s box in the courtroom.
An often over-looked skill for those who carry concealed firearms is the ability to articulate their actions. Articulation is a form of self-defense that occurs after the bullets fly. An outcome of guilt or innocence may very well hinge on your ability to paint a picture that justifies your actions while being consistent with state laws and concealed carry training curriculum.