First, the source.
If I haven’t mentioned this recently, you need to know the law. We all know that one person who thinks they know the law, and his/her confidence is easily confused with subject knowledge. Those people need to take our Law of the Gun class just as much, if not significantly more, than the rest of us. I’m a HUGE advocate of taking personal responsibility for your own safety. But that also means that we need to take responsibility for our own learning as well. Don’t get your legal advice from the dude down the street or your crazy uncle. Please?
Here’s an important thing to remember when watching videos like the one above: generally speaking, there are no right or wrong answers. Every scenario is so different and even the smallest queues in an event may be huge things to different people depending on the road that person has traveled leading up to that instant that is now forever frozen in time. We now have the advantage of watching it unfold, frame-by-frame – so take what you see at face value. It’s not about judging the participants, and it’s not about deciding what should or should not have been done; it’s about picturing yourself in the shoes of Person X and trying to see life from their eyes. What would you have done?
Now, the video:
I’ll walk you through what I see when I watch this:
- The intro slide tells us that this is a grocery store (looks about right) and that this was this person’s third robbery in a “spree.” That’s probably good for a jury to know, but for our purposes, it only serves to poison the well. If we were in the store that day, we’d have absolutely no way of knowing that information, and entering a situation like this knowing that the person has done X or Y in their recent past will make us react differently, whether that’s to jump on the trigger faster than we would have otherwise or the exact opposite, to show leniency when we would have been more inclined to get involved. Either way, I *hate* it when they tell us the background at the start of the video. Ugh.
- The first video footage shows us a man walking into store, presumably that’s the bad guy. Notice how many cars are in the parking lot, whether it’s light or dark outside, etc. There’s a lot we can learn about the scene by observing the little things.
- I can’t see the guy’s face as he walks in, but because they told us in the intro that he was wearing a mask, I immediately assume that. Another reason I wish they’d skip the back story slide. But he has his hands in his pockets and his face is down as he walks in. Maybe a little unusual, but we each see people like that 10 times every day. Maybe he’s just bummed that they stopped making Twinkies and now he’s at the store to search for a suitable replacement. Can’t blame the guy for that.
- In the next scene, we see him walking inside and his hand position has changed. He appears to be holding his right hand up toward his face, which is also no longer looking downtrodden, and his left hand appears to be holding something pointing down toward his feet. Assuming that this is indeed the same person, his behavior appears to have completely changed in only the few steps it took him to walk through the doors. Interesting.
- Now he walks in, hops over the railing and appears to head for the registers. Now he’s crossed from normal behavior to “something is definitely not right.”
- The next scene, around the 30-second mark, we see the other customers for the first time. One walks from left-to-right across the bottom of the screen with his hands up. Others appear to start moving away from the activity in a slow-but-get-me-the-heck-outta-here pace. It’s hard to tell, but the bad guy appears to have nothing in his right hand (he’s wearing gloves and pointing) and he seems to have a short rifle or shotgun, that he’s holding near the muzzle, in his left hand.
- Right at about the 51-second mark, I see one of the bystanders start actually walking toward the gunman. That seems odd. But judging by the camera angle, maybe the bad guy can’t see him yet (there’s an aisle in the way). Interesting.
- At the 1-minute mark, the cashier woman appears to be waiving her arms as if she’s saying “that’s all I have.” But since there’s no audio and I can’t read lips, your guess is as good as mine.
- At the 1:20 point, from a different camera angle, we see a bystander, I think, actually walking through the line-of-sight of the bad guy. Let’s hope he was actually trying to move to safety. But how that guy moves and where he moves to seems odd. But maybe that’s nothing. Or maybe he knows something we don’t.
- At 1:22 or so, the armed civilian, barely visible on the far-left of the screen, has now made the decision to engage. His gun is own, his grip looks solid, and he’s moving toward the bad guy.
- It looks like he fires the first shot at about 1:47 or so. You can see the gunpowder in the air.
- Rewind to about the 1:40 mark. It looks like the civilian draws from a pocket. Either he’d prepped the gun prior to this point or something. At any rate, his draw was smooth. Remind me to write a blog post about the “fast draw vs. the slow draw.” But as soon as the gun came out, he took his shooting stance/grip and was ready to go.
- BUT after getting all set, the civilian lowers his gun (I don’t think he’s fired yet) as the bad guy moves from his left to his right, toward the exit.
- At some point in there, the bad guy sees either him or the gun (or both), and that’s when the civilian fires the first shot. Rewind those last 10 or 15 seconds a few times. You can really tell that the civilian has about 140-bagillion things running through his head… then whack! He walks into the 1-way gate thingie. D’oh!
- I counted 3 or 4 shots in only a second or two, then by the 1:53 mark, he’s re-holstering. I’m telling you – it’s strange how the human brain works.
- At 1:59, it looks like the civilian had decided the bad guy was gone… then oops! No! Is he coming back in??!! (he was walking away from the doors, the abruptly turns back toward the doors)
- Then by 2:08, it actually looks like he’s helping the other bystanders either to cover or out of the store.
- Starting at 2:47 might actually be my favorite part of the video – how everyone else in the store is reacting this whole time. Notice how long it takes them to recognize that there’s an armed gunman in the store (actually only a few seconds), and that they instinctively start to move away from the danger. My friend Marc would call that the “lizard brain” kicking in. Listen to the lizard brain. If there’s danger, get away. Sounds easy, but in many of these videos, notice how many people recognize danger and either don’t move or actually wander toward it. Again, my point isn’t to show right and wrong behavior – only to point out tendencies and to show how these particular people reacted.
- At 2:48, you can actually see the armed civilian in line with the other people. Watch where he moves. It actually looks like he’s there with his wife or girlfriend. The two of them move away from danger, then immediately peel off to the side. He gets her to safety as best he can. Bravo! At 2:58, it looks like he’s actually drawing his gun to have it more accessible – he’s clearly getting ready for the fight. I, for one, think he did that beautifully. In a span of only 5 or 6 seconds, he’s recognized the danger, moved his wife to safety, drawn his gun, and prepared for a fight… all without the bad guy catching on to it. Seriously, watch those few seconds again – it’s a thing of beauty.
- By 3:04, look how far away he’d moved his wife. Could he have moved her all the way to the back of the store? Maybe. But she’s clearly in less danger now than she was a few seconds earlier.
- While he’s doing all of that, notice the 4 other bystanders milling about. Their brains are clearly struggling to process what’s happening. Their instincts were good – they moved away from danger. But now they’re back to “WTF is actually happening here??” 3 of them have their hands down or in their pockets; 1 has his hands straight up in the air.
- By 3:31, we can see one of the other bystanders pulling another person (the woman in the pink sweat pants) down to the ground when the shooting starts.
- 3:54, bad guy sets land speed record on the way down the street.
What did I miss?
So, now that we’ve covered the video itself, what about the moral decisions that happened? Should the civilian, who we now know is Nazir Al-Mujaahid, have even engaged in the first place?
- Yes? Well we know that this turned out well for him, comparatively, but could it have just as easily gone the other way? Yes. Did he possibly risk his life unnecessarily? Maybe.
- No? Well can the argument be made that Nazir saved lives? Yes it can.
If you were in the store that day, what would you have done?