“Unarmed” Teenagers?

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The “Myth” of the Unarmed Teenager
By Rick Hart, NRA Certified Instructor



Seems like we have been hearing a lot lately about shootings involving “unarmed teenagers” and either the police, or legally armed citizens. Amidst all of the other violence that goes on in our country, these types of incidents seem to command the headlines and the evening newscasts for many news cycles. Two years ago we had Sanford, Florida and its sensational portrayal. This year we have Ferguson, and most recently, Cleveland. While the loss of life in any circumstance is tragic, what befuddles me is the media’s refusal to acknowledge any culpability on the part of the persons who were killed. It seems logical to me that they could have prevented their own deaths with a little “good judgment”.


To that end, I’d like to take a moment to examine what the media and other activists consider to be two key “exculpatory” elements which are common to many of these incidents, and which have been used to impugn, if not the character, then at least the judgment of the prevailing parties.


As I have written about elsewhere, there seems to be some terrible misconceptions pervading the narrative that is being driven by certain civil rights activists and their accomplices, the media. Namely, that an “unarmed” person is never a threat to your life. If you have taken any of our “personal protection” classes, you will remember the triad of “Ability”, “Opportunity”, and “Jeopardy” – the three criteria that delineate a deadly threat. And, you will recall that “Ability” includes something known as “Disparity of Force”. This occurs when an attacker is bigger, stronger, better trained, backed up by friends, or any number of other conditions which create the possibility of death or grave bodily harm without the need for a “per se” deadly weapon. Lest you think this is a tad hyperbolic, the FBI Unified Crime Report statistics show that more people are killed with bare hands and feet every year than are killed by so-called “assault rifles” *.


It has been almost six years to the day that an “unarmed teenager” who was bigger, stronger, and more malicious, overpowered my neighbor, took his service pistol away from him (he was a sworn police officer in a local community), and executed him point blank. All over a minor traffic stop. It was the holidays, his daughter – only a few months old – was celebrating her first Christmas.


A slight relaxation of vigilance, or perhaps a moment’s hesitation in recognizing and reacting to a deadly threat, can cost a police officer, or a responsibly armed citizen, his or her life. Despite the best equipment, and the best training, this scenario plays itself out several times per year across America. Chief James Craig of the Detroit Police Department is correct when he says, “We need to expand the narrative (to include officers killed in the line of duty).”


Another myth that merits dispelling is the one that implies that having ones “hands up” indicates surrender or compliance. Make no mistake, if an attacker is moving aggressively toward you, and you have a reasonable belief that he intends to inflict harm upon you, it doesn’t really matter where his hands are. Having trained in the martial arts most of my life, having your hands “up” is how you want to fight. I am not a certified law enforcement officer, but I would hazard a guess that no department has trained its personnel to use the command “Put your hands up!” since Barney Fife became a deputy. You will, however, hear “Let me see your hands!” And, “Get down on the ground!” Both of which should be obeyed immediately. (“Going prone” is in the best interest of everyone involved.) Having your hands in the air, while maybe not the best defensive posture available, is certainly good for offensive tactics, and is even taught by some of the newer arts like Krav Maga and Keysi Fighting System which focus on real life street fighting techniques where it is more prudent to assume that your adversary is trying to kill you, as opposed to “teaching you a lesson”.


So, what are our takeaways from this?


  1. No one is ever really “unarmed”. This is especially so if at least one of the parties has a firearm or other weapon. Losing control of that weapon in a physical altercation is a very real, and deadly, possibility.
  2. Simply putting ones hands in the air is not necessarily indicative of compliance. Compliance can be, and often is, feigned until an advantage can be gained.


So, let’s remember to look at the totality of the circumstances before passing judgment. Recognizing and responding appropriately to a deadly threat is one of the most difficult things to do in life. It does not deserve to be “second guessed”.


Stay safe,



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One Response to “Unarmed” Teenagers?

  1. Teresa Hoops says:

    Well said Mr. Hart…

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