Minimum Necessary Force

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

Once upon a time, I was an officer in the Army National Guard. Part of our training was in riot control, as the National Guard has long been the primary backup for police forces nationwide. While this training is limited, we were drilled on a number of the basic philosophies and practices that police are constrained to operate under. One of these was the concept of “minimal necessary force.”

Actually, this is a good concept and one that I feel applies to our use of weapons in self-defense. The idea is that the amount of force used by law enforcement, either to apprehend a criminal or to stop a crime in process should equal the level of threat the criminal poses. Put simply, using a gun against someone who is fighting with their fists is too much force. Something less lethal is more appropriate, like pepper spray or a nightstick. This concept is why police carry a variety of different weapons.

Of course, there’s a fair amount of grey area that naturally exists in that concept, as no two situations are exactly the same. A slight woman officer might have to use a more deadly weapon when confronting a large male criminal than one of her male counterparts would. This is no different than what we see in self-defense law, where the relative size, strength and potential fighting ability of the two parties is often taken into account.

One of the grey areas comes to play when the two combatants have different types of weapons. Is a sword a suitable response to a stick? That depends on the stick and who is wielding it. A spiked club, which could still be called a stick is a pretty dangerous weapon.

How about a knife and a gun? We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight,” but is that a true saying? The overriding legal opinion is that if someone is within 21 feet of you, coming at you with a knife, you can’t draw your gun and fire before they can stab you. This was even tested by Myth Busters. So in a legal case, shooting a knife-wielding attacker is still considered to be self-defense.

But when a Columbus, Ohio police officer fatally shot a knife-wielding teen age girl who was lunging at two other girls with a knife, the internet went wild, calling for that police officer’s head. One of the more common comments was that the officer should have used their taser and not their gun. But in reality, that officer responded exactly as they were trained to do. They used the minimum necessary force.

Most people don’t realize it, but police are constrained by the same laws about the use of deadly force that the rest of us are. In other words, they can only use deadly force to defend self and defend others from imminent risk of life and limb. That’s why they are armed; because their job puts them in places where either they or someone else’s life is at risk. They are expected to use those weapons to defend the innocent; in that case, the girls who were being attacked.

But what about the charge that they could have used a taser?

Yes, it would have been possible to use a taser in that situation and it might have even worked. If it had, it would have been better for everyone. But if the officer missed the knife-wielding woman, who was moving, they would have been unarmed and unable to defend the others. At least one of them would have likely been killed. The officer would have failed in the execution of their duty.

The disagreement over that officer using a gun, rather than a taser, comes from two things; not understanding minimal necessary force and underestimating the deadliness of a knife. Yet the day after the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, there was a mass stabbing that occurred in a school in China. The perpetrator of that crime killed more children than the shooter at Sandy Hook did.

This naturally brings up the question of which is more deadly, the gun or the knife. But that question demonstrates a fair amount of ignorance, because it assumes that both weapons are used the same. But they’re not. A knife is a close-quarters weapon and a gun is a ranging weapon, even a stubby pocket pistol. The knife can’t compete at more than arm’s length, regardless of what we see coming out of Hollywood. Good knife throwers are hard to find.

I’d almost say that up close, I’d rather have a knife. You can actually do more damage with it. With a gun, you have to aim, even if it is just aiming instinctively. That’s not true with a knife; just swing wildly if you don’t have time to think. If they’re close enough, you’re likely to hit something.

So anyone saying that the officer should have used a taser is merely showing their ignorance. Don’t let that ignorance infect you. Understand what your own level of minimal necessary force is in any situation and be sure to defend yourself using that. Doing so won’t necessarily see you being set free; but it will play to your benefit in the courts.

Not everything we carry to defend ourselves is physical; much of it is knowledge. That knowledge is the only way that keeping our powder dry and our survival gear close at hand really matters.


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