If you are involved in an incident where you are forced to draw your handgun to defend yourself, you can bet that you will inevitably have a face-to-face meeting with law enforcement. However, before that encounter, you will almost certainly have to deal with making the important call to 9-1-1. Knowing what you should — or more importantly, should not say — can make a world of difference in whether you avoid criminal charges or end up with a lengthy prison sentence.
When should I call 9-1-1?
It’s generally a good idea for you to be the first one to make the 9-1-1 call rather than the bad guy. Chances are that the guy who assaulted you is not going to humbly confess to the dispatcher that he made a mistake in trying to rob you of your valuables, and that you justifiably shot at him in fear for your life. Rather, it is more likely that he will try to spin the story so that you are some sort of gun-wielding, crazy person who pulled a gun out of irrational anger.
However, you don’t want to make a call to 9-1-1 until you are sure that whatever threat caused you to pull and/or use your firearm in self-defense is fully neutralized. That is, make sure that the bad guy(s) no longer poses any risk to you or your family. This might involve making sure he is incapacitated on the ground out of reach of any weapons, your family is across the street, or that the group of thugs has totally dispersed by running off down the street. Whatever the situation, securing the area is the first order of business. Once the area is secure, return your firearm to safekeeping, or holster it at the very least. It is best not to have the firearm in your hand when law enforcement officers arrive, and you definitely don’t want to be waving your gun around when an officer walks up. Also, do not disturb anything at the scene. After making sure the location is safe, you can call 9-1-1 to report the incident and request the necessary emergency personnel.
What if I didn’t have to pull out my firearm?
In the event a potentially explosive situation cools down without incident and the bad guy leaves without a physical confrontation, it wouldn’t hurt to return your firearm to safekeeping, and be prepared for law enforcement to arrive regardless. Just because the situation appears to have been diffused, this doesn’t mean the police weren’t called by the other party or by a witness.
What if the other party calls 9-1-1 and reports the incident first?
As mentioned above, if the other party calls 9-1-1 before you, it is best to assume that they will not be reporting the incident to the dispatcher in a way that makes you look good. Instead, they will likely report that you were the one who attacked them and made them fear for their own life. They may report that you waved your pistol at them after getting angry at something insignificant. In fact, in one case a member had the police called on him by the other party for brandishing his firearm even though he only pulled it out to avoid being run off the highway by another driver. When the police later pulled him over, they assumed that he was the aggressor who started the confrontation, and treated him as though he was the criminal!
What happens when a 9-1-1 call is placed?
When you call 9-1-1, your call is sent to an emergency dispatch center where an operator or dispatcher will receive the call. Depending on whether you call from your cell phone or a landline, the dispatcher may also receive other information along with the call, such as your phone number, the address where the phone is located (if a landline), the name under which the phone is registered, and which emergency responders are in the area. All this information will help the dispatcher in sending out the appropriate emergency personnel.
After the dispatcher picks up, he or she will ask you a number of questions that are designed to provide details to the police, fire department, and/or ambulance services to assist them in responding to the scene. Additionally, if you are reporting an incident where you had to legally use your firearm in self-defense, the dispatcher will ask you questions about what happened and whether there were any weapons involved. Here are just a few of the questions a dispatcher might ask you:
- What is your emergency?
- Who are you?
- Where are you located?
- What is your callback number?
- Who is the victim?
- Is an ambulance needed?
- What happened?
- Was a weapon involved?
- Where is the other party that was involved?
It is critically important to remember that not only will the information you give the dispatcher be used to send out emergency services, it will also be recorded at all times and anything you say while on the phone with the dispatcher can and will be used against you if you are arrested and/or charged with a crime. The dispatchers are there to send help, but they are also there to assist law enforcement in their investigations.
What should I say to the dispatcher?
Your goal when talking to a 9-1-1 dispatcher is to report the incident in order to make sure everyone involved is safe and all necessary emergency personnel are sent. If you have used your firearm in self-defense, your goal should also include minimizing the potential for criminal liability. When law enforcement arrives, they will not know everything that happened—they may only have the information you (or the bad guy) provided the dispatcher, and whatever you or other witnesses tell them at the scene when they arrive. This leads us to your primary strategy when talking to 9-1-1: Keep It Short!
Tell the dispatcher that you have been the victim of a crime (robbery, burglary, etc.) and that you need emergency personnel on the scene. Specify which services you will need (for example, an ambulance and police.) Then provide information such as your name, your location (as specific as possible, including apartment number, etc.), what you look like, and how you are dressed.
DO NOT DISCUSS THE DETAILS OF WHAT HAPPENED!
DO NOT APOLOGIZE OR MAKE A STATEMENT ABOUT THE INCIDENT!
These points cannot be emphasized enough. If you are involved in a self-defense shooting, the last thing you want to do is start saying things like: “I shot him six times because he was going to hurt me!” While it may be true, you will undoubtedly be worked up, full of adrenaline, and emotional. It is important to remember that the dispatcher is not there to be your confidant! Remember, everything you say is being recorded for potential use in a criminal and/or civil legal matter against you!
What do I do after I tell the dispatcher the above information?
After giving the dispatcher the necessary information, hang up the phone! You are not legally obligated to remain on the line, and doing so may jeopardize your legal defense. Immediately after you have hung up, call the U.S. Law Shield Emergency Member Hotline to talk to your attorney! Make certain you cannot be overheard and give your attorney all the details of what happened. He or she will guide you through the impending encounter with law enforcement or may head to the scene. When law enforcement arrives, they will in all likelihood detain you and possibly arrest you. Do not make a statement unless your lawyer tells you to, and do not discuss the 9-1-1 call. In some cases, your Law Shield attorney will be able to speak directly to law enforcement over the phone on your behalf.
If the police arrive before you have had a chance to talk to your Independent Program Attorney, tell them you have been the victim of a crime and invoke your rights to remain silent and consult an attorney by saying these words:
“While I am willing to cooperate, I wish to invoke my right to remain silent, and I want to consult my attorney before making any statements.”
You must explicitly invoke these rights for them to be effective. Comply with law enforcement demands, but do not make any statements or joke around. Just like the 9-1-1 call, everything you say can and will be used against you.
You carry a firearm to protect yourself against a physical threat in a time of need; don’t forget to protect yourself against a legal system that can turn hostile against you in a split second! When making a 9-1-1 call immediately after a self-defense incident, protect yourself by telling the dispatcher everything they need to know to help everyone at the scene, but not so much that your statements may be used against you later. In an intense and emotionally charged situation you might be tempted to justify your actions to a dispatcher, or to a police officer who responds to the scene. Resist the temptation and protect yourself with carefully chosen words. Don’t try to do it all alone. Call your U.S. Law Shield Independent Program Attorney who will be your guide throughout the process.
The information provided in this publication is intended to provide general information to individuals and is not legal advice. The information included in this publication may not be quoted or referred to in any other publication without the prior written consent of U.S. LawShield, to be given or withheld at our discretion. The information is not a substitute for, and does not replace the advice or representation of a licensed attorney. We strive to ensure the information included in this publication is accurate and current, however, no claim is made to the accuracy of the information and we are not responsible for any consequences that may result from the use of information in this publication. The use of this publication does not create an attorney-client relationship between U.S. LawShield, any independent program attorney, and any individual.