Monday, 21 February 2011

Hero versus Gunman

The Hero versus The Gunman

I read with great interest the latest story of a “have-a-go” hero, thinking nothing of his personal safety, tackling an armed jewellery thief and then slipping away into anonymity before anyone could praise him for his actions.
A great headline story from many aspects, not least because the robber was armed with a handgun and also with an accomplice.


I’m writing this, as an author and self defence specialist, having only read a few newspaper and internet articles and looking at a handful of photographs snapped by an Evening Telegraph reporter who happened to be there at the scene on another job.

Risking Own Safety
Obviously, the main issue is the risk, to his own safety, that this “hero” (lets call him the vigilante for the sake of this article) put himself in, in comparison with the perceived value of the crime he tried to prevent.

Perception of Level of Crime Affects Decision to Intervene
It’s possible the vigilante had no idea what level of crime had been committed, so whilst it’s easy to say he should have not intervened, as risking your life over a handful of gold chains isn’t worth the risk. It’s highly possible that he thought something more serious had taken place, and in fact, this could well have been the case having also heard that the jewellery shop owner also tackled the gunman too.

Perception of Level of Threat (armed or not?)
It’s also quite probably that he had not spotted the weapon held in the gunman’s hand, in which case, he may have considered it more of an even fight between himself and the thief, with a good chance of a successful outcome.

Adrenalin Clouds Rational Thought Process
In addition, as other witnesses have attested to with comments such as “it all happened in seconds”, the vigilante will have been thrust into a self defence situation he may never have been involved in the likes of before, triggering adrenal dump which will have limited his cognitive thought process and resulted in him acting on instincts.

What, to the readers of the subsequent reports may have seen as a dangerous and foolhardy course of action, from their comfortable breakfast tables with coffee in hand, may have seemed perfectly logical and sensible to the vigilante with mass adrenalin coursing through his body.
So, lets assume the vigilante was acting on instinct, under the affects of adrenalin, trying to do his bit to prevent a crime of magnitude that he considered more than just that of theft of a handful of gold, with a thief who he perhaps considered unarmed…. What else could he have done differently?


Well, there are lots of martial arts out there who will show you self defence techniques to disarm gunmen, but sadly, when you go from a safe environment of a sports hall with plastic and wooden handgun replicas and assailants who are compliant and happy to let you practice your technique, to the real world with an aggressive, armed robber who’s in possession of a “real” firearm, those techniques are massively less effective.

Whilst the mechanics of those techniques taught may be perfectly viable, performing them under extreme stress, with the real danger of instant death should you make the slightest mistake, will make them far less effective. And let’s not forget, you only need to mess up once with these types of self defence techniques and you could be dead.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?
So, moving away from any fancy Martial Arts techniques to disarm this robber, what could our vigilante have done better?

Well – it seems he was able to knock the weapon out of the robber’s hand, according to some reports, but the photographs we have seen show him clearly hanging onto the robber by his empty hand – allowing the robber to wave the firearm around and even point it in the vigilante’s general direction.

Who knows why he wasn’t shot as a result? Perhaps the firearm was only a replica, empty or jammed, or perhaps the robber didn’t want to risk escalating a jewellery heist into a murder. Either way, our vigilante was extremely lucky to get away unscathed. (NB: latest reports do suggest the firearm was real)

Neutralise the Immediate Threat - Knock Out the Assailant
In any incident with a weapon, where you have no option but to fight back, your first priority is to neutralise the most immediate threat which, in this case, is the firearm in the robber’s hand.
This should have been the first thing the vigilante went for, if only to prevent it from being discharged in his direction.


Yes, the robber still has his other hand, feet, head, etc, to attack with but priority one is not to get shot.
Whether the weapon is then removed from the robber’s hand, or put under control, the next step is to render the robber unconscious.
In a one on one altercation against an armed assailant, there is no room for applying a citizen’s arrest, or trying to restrain the individual. The robbers need to get away will be far greater than the vigilantes motivation to restrain him and so, often they will break free and this could result in gunshots.


Knocking out or choking out the robber is the only safe course of action in this type of situation, and therefore, you need to assess your own abilities to perform such actions before you consider becoming a vigilante.

Well Done That Man!!
I say congratulations to the vigilante on this occasion. Through his determination, his honourable course of action and a big chunk of good luck, he was able to hamper the escape of an armed robber, long enough for photographs to be taken and evidence to be gathered. He also managed to escape serious injury himself which is of a priority. I believe we are still surrounded by people who will step up when the situation demands it and perform heroic feats such as this and we should applaud anyone who puts themselves in harms way for the protection of others. I think it’s also important, however, to use these types of cases to study violence and human behaviour as much as we can so that we can all learn for the future and better equip ourselves should we be the next potential hero.

Stay Safe and Have Fun

Al Peasland
Personal Safety Expert

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