The Off-Duty Conundrum

It amazes me how many law enforcement officers consider themselves non-cops once they’ve gone off-duty. I ran into a young officer (two years on the job) at a recent social event, and as the conversation drifted toward police work, I asked him what type of gun he was carrying. He looked at me as if I was from Jupiter and said, “I don’t carry a gun off-duty when I’m off, I’m off!” Although I respect this young officer’s viewpoint and certainly agree he has the right to his decision, I can’t help but think his logic is flawed.

Let me ask everyone reading this a question: How many people have you arrested during your career? Quite a few, I’m guessing. How many of them do you actually remember? Ok, now let me ask you this: How many of them do you suppose remember you? How many of them will recognize you even though you don’t recognize them? Were all of these arrest situations amicable, or was a bit of animosity created during the incident? Maybe you even had to use physical force against this person, and even embarrassed them in front of their friends and family? And now you have just come across this person in the local Wal-Mart while you’re shopping with your family, and you don’t recognize them, but they sure do recognize you oops.

Carry for Your Safety & Others
Think this won’t happen? It happened to me, and I was several states away on vacation with my family. I was in North Carolina, a state that at the time didn’t permit out-of-state law enforcement officers to carry concealed according to their (then) Attorney General. In direct violation of the law something I’m not proud of I carried anyway, and I’m glad I did.

We’d rented a cabin, so several bags of non-perishable groceries were in the car, but I needed to buy milk, eggs, butter, etc. I stopped at a road-side convenience store a few miles from our rental. As I entered, I paused briefly to do a 360-degree sweep (never go in anywhere that you don’t know how to get out of!) and noticed a bearded man looking at a magazine by the magazine rack and a clerk behind the check-out counter.

The clerk looked a bit agitated, but I figured she just wanted to go home. I bought my groceries and headed to the check-out, at which point I heard a voice behind me say, “Sergeant Spaulding, what are you doing here?” I turned to see the bearded man walking towards me. He went on to say, “You don’t remember me, do ya? I was in the county jail when you were working in there awhile back.”

I had no idea who this guy was, but I didn’t let on. I asked him how he was doing while I paid for my groceries. He started to get a bit more cocky and then said, “Hey, you’re not a cop down here no badge or gun. I could take you on if I wanted.” I turned and squared my body to him and said as menacingly as I could, “I may not be a cop here, but who says I don’t have a gun?” At that point, he looked a bit startled, then turned and left. The clerk looked at me and said, “I’m sure glad you came in. He’s been hanging around and was giving me the creeps.” The rest of my vacation was spent staying on guard, looking for this guy everywhere I went.

The Off-Duty Gun
The off-duty gun isn’t carried so that an officer can commit acts of heroic derring-do, intercepting criminals wherever they venture. It’s carried because we interact with dangerous people on a daily basis, and many have an axe to grind. Yes, we might find ourselves in a situation where a crime is in progress and we choose (there’s no duty to act when certain failure is at hand) to intercede, but the off-duty gun should be considered a safety device much like a spare tire it’s there if we need it, but we would rather not. However, if it’s needed, it will probably be needed very badly.

It’s real easy to fall into the no-gun or carrying a gun so small that it will be of little use routine, but I think it wise to consider why we’re carrying a gun on our own time. To my way of thinking, the off-duty gun should be large enough to fill your hand. If you have one or two fingers hanging off the end of the grip because it has been chopped to aid concealment, you’re adding a recoil-control problem. Human incapacitation with a handgun is problematic at best, and it’s likely multiple hits will be needed in order to help your opponent decide the fight is over. After all, it’s their decision, not yours. All you can do is help them facilitate that decision. Carry enough gun to end the fight.

At the same time, I pride myself on being a realist. Many readers won’t carry a gun at all if it’s not convenient, and I’ll be the first to admit that any gun is better than bare hands especially if your opponent is armed. I also realize there will be times when a large gun isn’t appropriate. I faced this dilemma when my daughters were married and I was dressed in a tuxedo. It would’ve been much easier to just go unarmed, but my three decades in law enforcement has made me realize that bad things happen to good people in nice places, so I went armed with a small semi-auto tucked under the cumberbum of my snazzy outfit on both occasions.

In another situation, as I walked around the 2008 ILEETA Convention north of Chicago a location that was certainly one of the safest in the world during that week due to the high volume of cops I still had a Ruger LCP.380 in my pocket. Life is filled with unexpected developments, and if something bad happens I just know (with my luck), that it will happen to me.

The Bottom Line
The choice to go armed off-duty is yours and yours alone. Since President Bush signed HB 218: The Community Protection Act into law, all serving and honorably retired law enforcement officers may carry concealed anywhere inside the United States, so there’s no longer a legal excuse to leave your gun at home. The best off-duty gun is probably the one you carry on duty because you’ve trained the most with it, especially in reduced-light environments where criminal predators tend to congregate.

If not your service pistol, then some compact version of the same gun would be the next best choice. I’m not going to preach here and tell you which gun you should carry. But I would strongly encourage you to always carry.

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word conundrum as “any puzzling problem.” For some people, the question of whether or not to carry on their own time is a conundrum, but it shouldn’t be. You have willingly selected a profession that potentially puts you in harm’s way every hour of every day. Why in the world would you think that threat ends just because you’ve gone off-duty?

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