Are You Prepared, Off-Duty, for Evil in that Moment?

January 3, 2020

It’s been reported that Jack Wilson, a range instructor with a law enforcement background, had “eyes” on Keith Kinnunen right away.  Something wasn’t quite right about him. He was standing along the side wall toward the back of the church wearing a long, seemingly unnecessary coat and what observers reported as an “obvious” fake beard and perhaps a wig.  Police officers describe bystanders’ intuitive responses to Kinnunen in several ways; alarm bells sounding, red flags flying, the hair on the back of the neck standing up.  Whatever the reason, there is something about a person’s being, their presence in the moment and in the context of the setting, that just doesn’t make sense.

The perception of danger proved true when Kinnunen pulled a short-barreled shotgun from his coat and started shooting, tragically murdering two men.

Wilson, who was alert and well prepared for that moment, responded by firing one round within two seconds of Kinnunen’s first shot, delivering a fatal headshot and immediately ceasing the threat. Thanks to his actions, countless lives were saved.

Watch the video of the incident, edited for education and training, and you’ll see for yourself.

“You have to be prepared at all times, at all places,” Wilson told reporters.  “And that’s what I strive, that’s the way I teach, that’s the way I want people to understand if they are going to wear a firearm for personal protection for themselves, or family, or anyone else. They need to be aware that it can happen anytime, anywhere.”

So, ask yourself: Are you ready to engage off-duty?

As a young officer and the son of a Chicago cop, my father once asked me if I carried my gun off-duty.  I told him I didn’t. I said it was too uncomfortable and cumbersome.

He gave me some great feedback: “You’re an idiot!”

I pled my case telling him the old standard, “I’d rather be a great witness than get involved off-duty.”

“You’re a dumbass!”

I didn’t sway him apparently.

He said, and I’m paraphrasing and censoring his remarks obviously.  “Yeah, you should try and be a witness, but what if you can’t just be a witness.  Let’s say this guy is shooting people just because he’s a crazed maniac?  And what if your kids are in his sights.  What are you going to do Mr. Witness?  How would you feel afterward knowing that you could have saved the lives of your kids?”

He walked away and I started carrying my gun off-duty almost all the time.

The vast majority of police officers don’t know how to turn off their cop spider senses even when off-duty.  We unconsciously read the situation and people in it.  If something is happening or is about to and you are unarmed, now what?

When I go to church, I carry my gun and I sit in the back of the church so I have a clear avenue for engagement if someone comes in to do mayhem.

A fellow parishioner once asked me about carrying off-duty while we were talking after a service. Regrettably, I told her I was carrying at that moment. She was aghast, saying something to the effect of, “God would never let something like that happen in a church.”

I’m sure my response was polite and reserved, but clearly, she didn’t know what she was talking about.  Historically, churches are prime targets for attack.

My priest, Father Castle, was seriously one of the greatest men I ever knew.  He used to give cash to the homeless and although moved by his kindness, I used to warn him, “You’re telling all of these people who are drug-addicted and/or emotionally disturbed that you have readily available cash here. On top of that, if you ever turn one away after giving them money, they may snap.”

He smiled with that smile of his and said something about believing in the goodness of others. I remember thinking, “That’s why you’re going right to heaven and I’m probably not. I’m carrying my gun in this church.”

Sure as heck, two or three times when one of these emotionally unbalanced people started causing some small problem, who did the ushers seek out?  The cop.

We have a saying in Calibre Press Seminars, “Anytime, anywhere by anyone for any reason.”  This is not to imply – and we clarify this – that all people are threats.  The fact is over 99% of people we encounter have no intention or desire to be violent.  But cops exist, at least partly, for that one percent, and we have to be prepared 24/7.

Thank God Jack Wilson was ready.  His comment after the event spoke volumes.

“I don’t feel like I killed an individual. I killed evil. And that’s how I’m approaching it. That’s how I’m processing.”

With that, here are some things to ask yourself in the wake of this incident:

1. Are you practicing to take the shot? Are you spending time at the range? Note Wilson’s skill and ability to fire one well-placed headshot from a distance and immediately terminate the threat.

2. Are you practicing rapid drawing–ideally under some training scenario stress–from under a suit coat or other piece of outwear without getting tangled using your off-duty holster?

3. Are you considering your setting? In this case, it was a church. Have you considered cover? Are you evaluating the difference between concealment and cover (e.g., if you need to duck behind a wooden pew while positioning yourself.) Remember things like a wooden pew will not provide cover. Rounds will penetrate.

4. Where are you positioned in the church? Are you in the middle of a pew? If you’re seated, have you practiced drawing and engaging from a seated position? Have you considered your true best move should gunfire erupt? Are you controlled enough to spot the threat before deciding to stand up and potentially make yourself an easy target?

5. Are you thinking through your next move after taking down a gunman? In this case, Wilson moved in to distance the gunman’s weapon from his reach. Are you thinking through your next steps? Multiple gunmen?

6. Have you considered how you will respond when uniformed personnel arrive? Remember your off-duty, post-shooting protocols (e.g., follow orders of uniformed officers, remember they may not immediately ID you as a good guy) Do you have your badge?

7. Are you practicing to visually and physically navigate obstructions to your shot – things like panicked people running in your field of vision? Are you prepared to wait?

8. In the case of a church setting, do others who may be armed know you? Do they know you’re armed? Are you planning to avoid being accidentally being shot by someone confused in the chaos and potentially mistaking you for a threat?

9. Are you ready to respond calmly to the sudden sound of gunfire and are you prepared to stand firm during physical and auditory chaos to stay focused enough to ignore distraction and engage the threat?


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