Lawful gun owners should prepare to lead

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Eddie L. Moye, a retired 25-year veteran of the Pennsylvania State Police discusses what legal gun owners need to know if they find themselves in an active shooter situation.

When legal gun owners with carry permits find themselves in an active shooter situation, they need to step up and take the lead in making sure people stay safe. They also need to be responsible and know what the law says about when they can shoot.

Those were the basic takeaways from a seminar on surviving an active shooter situation held in Media on Monday night. U.S. Law Shield one of several legal defense programs that provide legal services for its members who carry and use firearms in a lawful manner, put on the seminar.

More than two-dozen people, a third of whom were women, attended the seminar held at the VFW on Hill Top Avenue. Roughly a third of the attendees were already U.S. Law Shield Law members and have attended more than one of the organization’s seminars.

The seminar was broken into two parts, surviving an active shooter situation and reviewing Pennsylvania laws on when a person is allowed to fire on another.

“If we’re willing to pull the trigger, we need to know when deadly force is legal,” said attorney Mike Giaramita. “You’re taking an action that is usually a crime, but you choose to do it for a justifiable reason.”

According to Giaramita, Pennsylvania allows for the use of deadly force in order to prevent death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or rape.

Those four points are legal justifications not just for a potential victim, but also for a third party observer who might be in a position to save someone else. He added, however, that protecting property — including a pet — is not a legitimate justification.

Giaramita said there are also three requirements that justify the use of deadly force in the aid of another person.

“First, if you were in the shoes of the person you’re protecting, that you would be justified in using deadly force. Second requirement is that the person you’re protecting would be justified in using deadly force. The third requirement is that it has to appear that intervention is immediately necessary to prevent the harm,” he said.

Giaramita also addressed the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws.

There is a duty to retreat in Pennsylvania if it’s safe to do so, but there are exceptions. One exception is the Castle Doctrine. A person is not required to retreat in his or her home or place of business, unless another employee is causing the work environment incident.

Stand Your Ground laws also remove a duty to retreat given some specific circumstances. Again, there are three requirements, he said.

The first requirement is to be in a place where you’re legally entitled to be and where it’s lawful to possess a firearm. That rules out government buildings, such as a courthouse or U.S. Post Office building, or any elementary or secondary schools, mental hospitals and a city park in Philadelphia..

The second requirement is that a person has a reasonable belief that deadly force is necessary and justified to prevent death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or rape, Giaramita said.

“The last requirement is the one I view as the most important requirement in Pennsylvania…that the attacker must be using or wielding what is, or appears to be, a deadly weapon. If he’s got no deadly weapon, then we don’t get Stand Your Ground,” he said.

Lawful gun owners need to know when they can and can't shoot.
Lawful gun owners need to know when they can and can't shoot.

He stressed, however, that no matter the perceived legitimacy of the justification, the ultimate decision on that justification would probably come from a judge or jury. It is most likely that a gun owner who uses a firearm would be handcuffed and taken to a police station for questioning. Giaramita’s advice in that situation is to “lawyer up and shut up.”

The attorney said physiological reactions to the stress of a critical incident such as a shooting, even if justified, could cloud or interfere with a person’s thinking, making it impossible for them to give a proper accounting of the incident. Giaramita said even Pennsylvania State Police policy recognizes that fact and give troopers who are involved in a shooting 72 hours before they are required to make a statement.

The other phase of the seminar involved an active shooter situation.

Eddie Moye, a retired PSP corporal with 25 years of service, echoed the standard advice of flea, hide fight during the July 18 seminar, but with a twist, if one of the innocent people is a lawfully armed civilian.

Moye still stressed situational awareness. Know where the exits are. But the gun owner needs to do more. Plan and prepare, he said. Observe what’s happening around you. Learn to recognize and avoid bad situations.

“If things don’t feel right, leave. Listen to your instincts,” he said, adding, “If you’re the only good guy with a gun, step up and be a leader.”

That leadership, Moye said, includes helping others to get out safely if possible, but staying behind to protect an injured person who can’t move.

If people can’t escape, find a secure spot where there is adequate cover. Organize defenses, find any item that can be used as a weapon, be it a fire extinguisher that can be sprayed into an assailant’s face, or a stapler that can be thrown.

Someone should call 911. If possible, the legally armed person should give his or her description and location to the emergency dispatcher.

Once police arrive, the gun owner should either put the weapon down, or hold it in a nonthreatening manner, and immediately obey all orders, Moye said.

He also suggested avoiding gun-free zones if possible, since it’s in those areas where many active shooter incidents happen.

Gun owners should train not only with their weapons, but also keep themselves fit and always conduct themselves in a responsible manner.

As with Giaramita, Moye stressed one other thing: “Know the law.”

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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