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When should I shoot back?

EDITORS NOTE: This guest column was submitted to the Pamplin Media Group by Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett, who composed it with help from firearms experts in his office. It was adapted from a sheriffs office newsletter in which Garrett responded to recent questions posed to him by county residents who hold concealed handgun licenses (www.co.washington.or.us/sonews).

One way we process tragic events like the shootings at the school in Newtown, Conn., or the Clackamas Town Center is to run through the scenario in our heads.

How would we react, what would we do? What if my family is with me? Planning and thinking through various situations are healthy ways to give yourself peace of mind and to live safer.

Drivers learn and practice driving on icy roads. Businesses have fire or evacuation drills. It is the same if you carry a concealed firearm — have a plan and practice. If you have a plan, improve it. If you don’t, start today. Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett

We can’t endorse actions you may take during an active threat event, but we can share important considerations that may help you decide whether or how to respond if you are in such a situation. Here is a list of some considerations from our firearms experts to get you thinking:

  • If at all possible, have someone call 911 immediately.

    Can you assess your situation accurately? How many shooters are there? Are you in a position of tactical advantage or are you already cornered? You need to be able to assess the backstop behind your target, and to see who is between you and the shooter. How comfortable are you firing your weapon, and do you have extra ammunition with you?

  • If possible, choose a position behind an object or structure that both conceals your location and provides a barrier before engaging the shooter. You may want to consider separating from your family or others. Once you engage the shooter, his focus will turn to you and those around you. If the shooter comes to you, you may have to take immediate action.

  • We know a shooter’s field of vision will narrow to some degree, often to pin-point vision. They may lose the ability to see peripherally and suffer diminished hearing. They could feel like they are in slow motion. This may also happen to you, depending on your experience.

  • Finally — and this is the toughest part of the plan — are you prepared to take the shooter’s life to save the lives of others? The shooter has already made the decision to kill people. Have you ever considered this scenario? Is it part of your mental plan?

    If you do take action and are able to successfully engage the shooter, you need to understand that you are now presenting an armed, unknown threat to responding law enforcement (or possibly to other well-intentioned armed citizens).

    If you continue to display your weapon when police encounter you, there are only fractions of a second when life or death decisions are made. After you successfully engage a shooter, our trainers recommend you ensure your empty hands are plainly visible. Either re-holster or put your gun down depending upon the environment, situation and proximity of police.

    It is highly unlikely that you will ever find yourself involved in an active shooter situation; however, if you do and you have a CHL, it is good to be prepared. It’s like putting that spare tire and some extra emergency items in the trunk of your car before a long trip. You never know when you may need it, but you will have it just in case.

    Practice regularly with the gun you carry. Practice regularly drawing from a concealed carry position using the holster you will be wearing. Practice until you are proficient with your gear. Be aware of your surroundings. Have a plan.

    Pat Garrett is the Washington County sheriff. If you have questions or comments about this column, he can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.gton.or.us.




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