Three seconds, that’s what they teach. Three seconds to draw your weapon, assess the risk, and react. Now that’s slow, and for everyone who has taken a “Use of Force” course knows that’s slow. But it’s for a reason. The three seconds allows you to think long enough in an immediate threat situation and still pull the trigger without dying. What they brush over in training is that when this threat occurs, your vision whites out or gets blurry and those three seconds are the fastest three seconds of your entire life. That’s why they train you. That’s why they teach you to fire in every situation. For it to become habit, second nature, instinctive. Because in those three seconds you don’t think, “I hope I hit them,” or any logistical scenarios like that. You take all three of those seconds to think, “My God, it’s happening.” And then, you react. Because that’s what you are supposed to do.
But there was one particular day, when those three seconds were not enough. My partner Ron and I were put on an employee termination job. I had been working with Ron for two years now. He was a 50 year old former marine, retired cop and private investigator. Within those two years we had seen it all. We worked mostly armed protection together but he was the kind of guy who loved working the investigations, just because he liked digging the dirt up on people. I was his apprentice to whom he taught all his dirty tricks. But sure, he loved armed protection. The man used to wear an arsenal on his back when we went on the job. He always said, “If you run out of ammo, just holler,” or, “if I have to shoot more than this, we are in a warzone.” He would then laugh that dopey vulture from Loony Tunes laugh with the occasional snicker at the end. He was like a big kid sometimes, but that’s what I think got him through the jobs. Besides, I would go to Hell and back with this guy. I trusted him more than any of the guys I worked with.
This employee termination was set to be in a hotel conference room and would include the 300 people who would be laid off and the executives, managers, and upper echelon who would be delivering the bad news. We were informed that in this area, gun rights were strongly exercised and encouraged. Therefore, Ron and I would be in the crowd, armed, and posing as employees.
The day before the meeting we did the walk through, met with the ones we were protecting, and learned about all the access and escape points. We also learned that the reason we were called was because there was some chatter online amongst employees that got out, and the rumors were that someone was going to act out towards a specific boss. Great right?
But Ron and I had done these before. Everyone gets hot headed initially, says a lot of things out of emotion and doesn’t really mean anything by it. Problem was, that was 99% of our previous cases. That 1% was a guy Ron and I caught with a gun in his car, which we stopped before he went into the building. Would he have done something? Yea, probably.
The news didn’t stop us, we were ready for the job, and in a way Ron and I were excited. The day of, we blended in with the 300 people inside. Oddly enough, no one talked to either Ron or myself. They talked in their cliques but no one was really reaching out to new faces. I told Ron “yea, why make friends today when you know you’re out of here tomorrow.”
We sat in different spots amongst the crowd. There were two large sections of chairs with an aisle going down the middle. There were four access points in each corner of the room. The board of executives had a dozen chairs up front facing the crowd. Ron was located at the bottom far left of the left section. I was positioned on the top left of the right section, on the middle aisle. This gave of full coverage of the room.
One by one the Human Resource managers stood up and explained to the crowd what was happening. It was quiet at first, as the crowd just listened. I listened as well, but mostly I focused on people’s body movements. Ron would every now and then look back and assess people’s faces and where their eyes were going. The one man who spoke said something about “your health benefits will be dealt with as follows…” and “Your PTO will not ….” But I didn’t listen that closely. Slowly I noticed the crowd began commenting amongst themselves, their questions became more hostile, and people began to get personal with the managers. The room was going south. I’d seen this before too. Some people just like making themselves center of attention.
Ron was now looking back at the whole crowd. Everyone had turned the meeting into an open forum and eyes were darting forward and back, from management to employees. I had begun to see a lot more movement, and now I listened for the quiet talkers. That’s when I heard it.
This guy in the same row as me was talking to the people around him. “Can you believe what this guy is talking about?” The people around him agreed. “Don’t you wish someone would just do something about it?” The people around him agreed. “Someone should just shoot this prick?” Fewer people agreed. “I don’t know man, I think they’ll take care of us, it’s not his fault after all.” Said one of the guys. “Yea? You think so. He represents this company. He’s responsible for putting me out of a job, taking my benefits, and hurting my family.” And the man went on, and his stories became more and more repetitive and even incoherent. I was now sitting straight up, looking for Ron, trying to see if I could covertly get his attention. Ron did see my eyes, but he was too far to notice that I was onto this guy. And while I was looking towards Ron, halfway off my seat ready to make a move, the bastard stood up.
Now the questions and comments that came after the incident are what shook me the most. Why didn’t you wait longer? You were close enough, you could have subdued him without killing him. You could have wounded him, you didn’t have to kill him.
The answer that followed was simple. Three seconds. Then I explained it to them since the training I had gone through and the adequacy of three seconds for an assessment of a threat, didn’t seem to be the response they desired. But I explained it similar to how I explained it before.
In those three seconds I did think of everything except killing that man. I thought, maybe this man’s family was really suffering and he found justice in killing the man who wronged him and his family. Maybe this guy should kill his boss, after all, they were ruining the lives of many people for their own corporate greed. Maybe I should just let this man take his boss’s life, and then I will stop him before he hurts more people. That took me three seconds. But the fact is, I was trained to think subconsciously. And while those three seconds went by with me thinking about this man’s life and questioning my response, my conscience knew he was wrong. My conscience knew that this man was wrong and he needed to be stopped as quickly as possible. Instinct for that split second outweighed consequence. Instinct does not take into consideration public opinion or social constructs. It eliminates threat. That’s what I did. That’s what I was trained to do.
The problem was, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because the day has come when we can’t protect people without repercussion, or some cynic to wish that the good guys got hurt in the process as well. You were probably thinking at the beginning of this story that someone dies at end. And you were right. No one innocent died, only the bad guy, and it’s a happy ending. But for some it wasn’t a happy ending. Some people expected the good guys to get hurt and the innocent to die. Or maybe you were the person who simply questioned if I responded too quickly or too harshly by shooting the perp? But go further. Who was really the bad guy? Was there a bad guy? What did the perp look like and what do Ron and I look like? If it takes you more than three seconds to realize where you’ve arrived with your assessment, and if it’s a bad place or not, then maybe quick moral judgments are not your place of expertise. Maybe, it’s a far more difficult place to be in than you thought. But unfortunately, it’s where we’ve ended up.
Now ask yourself, who am I, why do I think this way, and how will I react? Those answers may take quite a long time to reach. But…You only have three seconds.