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Armed citizen dials 911 and waits...and waits...and waits...
By Chad D. Baus
Gun ban extremists and others who oppose the right of self defense are fond of saying that when a person is in danger, the best thing to do is to call 911 and let the police take care of it.
But what happens when you dial 911 and the police tell you to wait...and wait...and wait?
One Columbus-area business owner was wise enough to have made his own plans for that very eventuality...
On Thursday, April 17, a drive-thru carryout owner and Concealed Handgun License (CHL)-holder was investigating why his security alarm went off after just having closed up for the night when he was surprised by an intruder who had been hiding in his store. The entire confrontation that followed was caught on tape.
As can be seen in the security video the intruder surprised the store owner, who was forced to draw his gun when the intruder advanced toward him.
He ordered the intruder onto his knees, and held him at gunpoint while attempting to dial 911. At that point, the intruder got up and began advancing toward the CHL-holder again.
The store owner attempted to keep the intruder from approaching him, and showed admirable restraint as the intruder advanced on him several times.
The 911 call begins at that point.
"I've got a gun on a guy that's in my business," the store owner says. "Get the cops here."
"Where are you at?" inquires the 911 operator.
After the store owner gives his address and the name of his business, he says again "Get 'em here."
The operator responds by asking "Why do you have a gun on him?"
The store owner calmly explains "because he's in my business after hours."
At this point, the intruder can again be seen approaching the store owner, and moving himself out of the cameras' view.
The operator can be heard asking "who is this person?", just as the store owner is heard giving the intruder commands, and the operator asks again, "Who is this person?"
The store owner, preoccupied with the intruder's refusal to comply with his demands, doesn't respond. He can again be heard commanding the intruder to get on the ground as the operator says "Sir you need to talk to me....You need to talk to me...Who is this gentleman that's in your business?...Hello?"
The store owner comes back to the line and says, "Yeah, what can I do for you?"
"You need to talk to me and tell me why do you have a gun to this man's head?" the operator demands, imagining something that never occurred, let alone ever communicated to her by the store owner. The operator continually peppers him with questions for which she already had been told the answers. "Is the business closed? Did he break in?"
The store owner explains again, "Yeah, my business is closed, I was here a half hour. He was hiding in here. I shut the door and then my alarm went off. I come over here and the guy's in my business."
"Stay on the line with me," the operator replies. "I have officers en route," she finally informs him, more than one minute into the call.
As the 911 audio and security video shows, the store owner's attention was drawn away from the intruder as he was forced to explain/ defend himself to the 911 operator about why he was holding a man at gun point.
Next the operator informs the store owner that "when an officer gets there you have to put the gun down. Do you understand that?"
"I understand that," he replies.
"What is your name?" she can be heard saying, at the same time the store owner informs her that "There's two of 'em in here." (The store owner had been told this by the intruder. It turned out to be a lie.)
"Are the both on the ground?", the operator inquires.
"No. One's in the office, and the other's just standing around right now," he replies.
At that point the store owner can again be heard issuing commands to the intruder.
"Do you have a permit for that gun, sir?", she continued, hopefully referring to an Ohio concealed handgun license, since no permit is required to own a handgun in Ohio.
"Yes I do," he replied, "and I'm on my own property."
"Ok, well, you need to answer my questions and stop being brief to me," she scolds. "What is your name?" The store owner replies with his name.
At the same time the operator is peppering him with questions, the store owner hears a horn honking outside. Thinking the police have arrived and need a way into the building, he can be seen in the video backing toward the locked door. (The honking horn turned out to be the store owner's daughter, coming to see why he had not turned off the alarm. Her car can be seen approaching in the security footage.)
More than two and a half minutes into the 911 call, the intruder took advantage of the situation and long delay in police response and fled out the door as the store owner shouts "Get back here!"
After inquiring about the intruder's physical description and direction he fled, the operator again says "We have officers en route. They're still en route."
At the three minute mark, the operator can be heard asking someone to relay the information to county law enforcement (who eventually responded to the call).
"Obviously I've got an emergency situation, she says, revealing exactly who she thought was the bad guy in the situation. "I have a gentleman with a guy at gun point."
The store owner can then be seen in the security video searching the business to determine if there was a second intruder.
More than a minute after the intruder escaped, and three and a half minutes into the 911 call, the operator explains that the delay is because "you called the Columbus police department so we're having to relay the information to the county if you could stay on the line with me."
"I'm here," he replies calmly.
"I understand that sir," she retorts. "I'm, ah, we're trying to get the county out there. You called the Columbus police department."
"I called 911," the store owner says.
"You've called the Columbus police department. Your cell phone has come to the Columbus police department. We're getting on the phone with county to have them respond sir," the 911 operator answers as the clock on the call passes the four minute mark.
"I'm glad there were no shots fired," the store owner calmly observes.
"OK, sir, do not be angry with me," the operator replied defensively.
The operator then inquires about the whereabouts of the second intruder, and the store owner replies that he still believes "he's in here somewhere."
Finally, more than four and a half minutes into the call, the operator said "I'm going to patch you through to the county. They are en route. I'm gonna transfer you there. You need to stay on the line."
"Don't do anything stupid," she concludes, once again treating the store owner as if he was the person she was most concerned about.
At just under five minutes after the store owner called 911, a second vehicle can be seen in the security video pulling up outside the store. The driver a retired deputy who lives close to the store and knows the store owner. He heard the alarm and responded.
Another minute later, and nearly six minutes after the 911 call was first placed, a sheriff's deputy's cruiser appears on the security video, and soon after the deputy can be seen clearing the building. Thankfully, there was no second intruder.
NBC Columbus (WCMH) posted a video report on the incident on their website entitled "Owner Draws Gun".
NBC Columbus reported that although the police say they know who the burglar was but that as of the time of the televised report he had not been arrested.
Conservative estimates from the U.S. Department of Justice have found that there are 1.5 million defensive uses of a firearm each year, most of which do not end in shots being fired, or in much media attention, if any. There are likely many more than go completely unreported, even to law enforcement.
In communications I have had with him following the incident, the store owner told me that "this could have went bad from the beginning. I had a loaded shotgun and a .45 with easy access in the office where he came out of. It was like this guy wanted to die."
He also observed his belief that "everything happens for a reason" and has expressed to me his hope that this incident can serve as a training tool. I have no doubt that it will.
The store owner notes that there is one important lesson that CHL-holders can immediately take away from this incident.
"This has opened my eyes to how bad the 911 system is when calling from a cell phone," he told me. "If there is a next time I have programed my phone to speed dial the sheriff's department directly."
Another observation that can be made is that conversing with the 911 operator was clearly a frustration this store owner didn't need. As can be seen in the security video, the store owner was able to maintain control over the intruder prior to his being peppered with questions by the 911 operator.
"I was screaming at him so loud before the 911 call that I lost my voice for 3 days." But when the store owner began calmly talking to the 911 operator, it seemed to encourage the criminal to want to talk and debate with him.
In my concealed carry classes I teach my students that we never want to discuss or debate with the criminal - only give orders for him to follow. I would never presume to second-guess a person in this situation after the fact, but this incident has convinced me that if ever put in this situation I will at least consider the option of giving the 911 operator the information they need to find my location and then putting the phone down (but keeping the line open!) so that I can concentrate on the criminal.
A third lesson that this incident presents is the need for passage of Ohio's Castle Doctrine legislation, which was passed by unanimous consent by the Ohio Senate earlier this month, and is currently awaiting more committee attention in the Ohio House.
"Through the whole timeframe of holding him at gunpoint," the store owner recalled to me, "I was thinking if I pull the trigger I'm the one that will be going before the grand jury and I'm the one that will be spending thousands of dollars defending myself."
The store owner did a lot right, given the situation. He tried to keep distance. He ordered the person to the ground away from him. When the intruder fled, he let him go and gave a good description and direction to the dispatcher. I only hope I get half of what he did right if I am in a situation such as he was.
If ever there were an example of how responsible CHL-holders are trained to be, even in the midst of such a charged situation, this is it.
And if ever there were an example of why it is irresponsible to advise people to gamble their very lives on calling 911, this is it.
Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman and Northwest Ohio Chair, and teaches the Ohio Concealed Carry class through Northwest Self Defense LLC.
Click here to access the list of Ohio CHL-holders acting in self-defense in the Buckeyefirearms.org Education Guide.