A tragic police shooting, and its politically correct backlash


I had (and still have) the privilege of belonging to an e-mail list of graduates of a nationally recognized firearms training institute.  Many of its members are law enforcement officers and military personnel, so a fair amount of subject matter from those realms is discussed from time to time.  Until a few years ago, some of the more interesting and informative comments came from Erick Gelhaus, a multiple graduate of that institution and a deputy sheriff in Sonoma County, California.

On October 22, 2013, Mr. Gelhaus observed a 13-year-old youth, Andy Lopez, carrying in public what appeared to be an AK-47 rifle.  He challenged him, and Mr. Lopez turned to face him, appearing to raise the rifle.  Deputy Gelhaus fired, and Mr. Lopez was killed.  The resulting legal and media brouhaha dragged on for many years, and effectively destroyed Deputy Gelhaus’ law enforcement career.  You can see some of that in this news report.

I (and many who knew Erick, either in person or online) had no doubt from the start that his actions were justified, because we knew him, and knew he was not the sort of peace officer to use lethal force without good reason.  We were angry and bitter that he was, in so many words, sacrificed to politically correct forces.

Those same forces – that same ill-informed, knee-jerk public reaction – have been exploited by progressive and left-wing elements in far too many police shootings, to the detriment of justice and peace on our streets.  Yes, there have been police excesses;  but statistics demonstrate they’re far fewer than justified uses of force to prevent crimes.  If Andy Lopez had not carried a convincing replica of a dangerous weapon in public, and had not used illegal drugs before doing so, and had not reacted as he did to a police challenge, he’d be alive and well today.  His death was the consequence of his own choices.

Now Mr. Gelhaus has discussed his ordeal in a long, wide-ranging interview with the Armed Citizen’s Legal Defense Network.  It’s extremely interesting from the point of view of any armed citizen, particularly if you may have to use your weapon in self-defense.  I highly recommend that you read the interview in full, and ponder what Mr. Gelhaus has to say about understanding the law before you need it on your side.

Mr. Gelhaus concludes:

What I think is important for the people reading this, though, is: don’t just focus on how to use whatever tool you are going to use. If you are going to use OC [pepper spray], learn the laws about using OC. If you are going to use a firearm, learn the laws that relate to using a firearm. Learn the laws so you know what you can and cannot do and when.

I have used the phrase, “You are probably going to need to be your own expert.” I am not talking about testifying, but you are going to have to be able to explain why you did what you did, not just to the cops, but there is a really good chance that you are going to have to explain to both criminal defense counsel and a civil defense attorney, why what you did is reasonable and why it is within your state’s standard and the national standard.

Understand that you may very well have to go talk to counselors afterwards, not because of the event, but because of the aftermath of the event. I didn’t have problems with the shooting itself. I found out in the residential treatment I did afterward, that I had a pretty bad moral injury from the aftermath over who I ended up shooting. So, just accept that you may need counseling. Not everybody who uses force needs counseling but be accepting of help if you need it.

Know as much as you can know about what you plan to use to defend yourself, not just the mechanics of it, but also the legalities. Know that you may have to be your own expert to explain why and how you did what you were trained to do and why that was reasonable under the circumstances. Help your attorneys know what experts they may have to go get to help.

There’s much more at the link.  Indispensable reading for all armed citizens, IMHO.

Congratulations to Mr. Gelhaus on coming through his years-long ordeal with flying colors.  I hope he has a long and fulfilling second career, teaching and helping armed citizens like you and I to cope with the legal, emotional and societal realities of self-defense.



  1. I have considered getting that piece of paper that lets one carry a gun around in public concealed. Every single time I think about it I go on to examine the downstream consequences of using it and decide it isn't worth it. I practice SA where ever I go, always. Spent many years as a lone officer in the middle east emirates and kingdoms and SA was a daily one. I've pretty much resolved that I'll only shoot someone if they break into my home.
    Not defenseless even out and about. I'm old enough to get away with carrying a club and if it looks to the prey like I am doddering, well, won't they be surprised.
    OTGH, it is frightening how fast old friends turn into frail wrecks in just a week or two. Cancer sucks but it appears to act quickly with old men. There's none of that lingering forever going on there. Diagnosis to death in under 2 weeks.

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