Over the course of representing our clients, we have noticed a very peculiar phenomenon that is leading to arrests or entanglements with the legal system. We have labeled this term “jumping the gun,” and it happens more often than you’d think! What is jumping the gun? Imagine the following scenario:
John lives at home, by himself, on a 11 acre plot of land. While cleaning his handgun, he accidentally discharges into his own floor. No one has been hurt, no neighbor’s property has been damaged, and in fact, other than the inconvenience of fixing the bullet-hole, there is no harm. However, John has a guilty conscience; he thinks there may be an ordinance he violated by discharging his firearm. Unsure as to whether or not he’s committed a crime, he calls the police on himself. The police, who focus in on the words “shot,” “my,” and “handgun,” arrest John or write him a ticket.
In that example, John jumped the gun and called the police on himself. Even though John can eventually beat this rap, his own guilty conscience caused the ride! This kind of idea is difficult for lawyers to understand (as we have no conscience to begin with), but we want to warn people to be very precise as to when they call 9-1-1 or contact law enforcement. Most law enforcement officers or dispatchers are hostile towards firearm owners in general, especially so if there’s been a use of the firearm. Even if you notify them of a non-criminal activity you were engaged in with your gun, you can still get arrested, and the only way they found out is because of your phone call. This is to say nothing of the fact that by calling 9-1-1 prematurely and jumping the gun, you’re losing a legal defense as old as time itself: the “it wasn’t me!” defense.
This issue can become even more confusing when dealing with self-defense situations, where in response to an attack or threat someone displays or discharges their gun. Again, it is not uncommon for individuals to jump the gun, call 9-1-1, and report that they just shot someone, or pointed their gun at someone during a road rage. Here they’ve actively made the situation worse! By focusing on their own activities, they have now made themselves the center of this altercation.
Don’t take this the wrong way, though; if you’ve drawn your gun, or fired your gun, you should call 9-1-1. But how do you do that without jumping the gun? By correctly reporting that you’ve been the victim of a crime. If someone has attacked you, attempted to rob you, or committed some other crime against you, your focus shouldn’t be on the fact you drew or used a gun, but instead your focus should be to report their criminal activity to the police. After all, as a law-abiding citizen, you would only pull your gun on someone, or shoot at someone, if they are doing something bad enough to earn it. Accordingly, make sure your focus is on their activity, not your own!
While many people are well acquainted with the mindset of “nobody talks, everybody walks,” sometimes it can be easy to let worry, anxiety, or plain old guilty conscience take control and end up talking to the police (thereby not walking away from the encounter without criminal charges!). If you’re ever in doubt as to whether you’ve committed a crime, your phone call should be to your attorney, not to law enforcement. If it is in your best interest to call to report the crime that has been committed against you, your attorney will tell you to do so; if your best plan of action is to be quiet and sit tight, they will tell you that too. So, if you find yourself in a situation where you have used a firearm, but you’re unsure as to whether it was illegal, call your attorney. Don’t jump the gun and call 9-1-1! — by Michele Byington, Contributing Legal Editor, Texas & U.S. Law Shield Blog
Michele Byington of Walker & Byington in Houston represents clients in criminal cases ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. She has a passion for protecting people from the legal system after they have had to fight for their lives or loved ones. Byington co-authored the book Texas Gun Law: Armed And Educated, and she speaks across the nation on firearms issues and the law of self-defense.