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What's Up Sheepdogs? Ryan here with Tampa Carry.
On October 3, 2018, Cristobal Lopez and his father entered an Army-Navy surplus store in Lakeland, FL. As Lopez was looking around, he spotted a hatchet, which he decided to steal. He slipped the hatchet in his pants and attempted to walk out of the store. Michael Dunn , who is the co-owner of the store, noticed the attempted shoplifting and jumped into action. Dunn quickly blocked the doorway and asked if Lopez was planning to pay for the hatchet. Lopez replied, "Yes, I will pay for it."
Unfortunately, this wasn't good enough for Dunn, who demanded that the police be called and Lopez be prosecuted. At this point, Lopez attempted to exit the store, so Dunn grabbed onto his shirt in an attempt to detain him until the police arrived. It's at this time in the surveillance footage that we notice the firearm in Dunn's hand. However, I am unsure when the gun was first presented.
Does Michael Dunn Have a Right to Use Physical Force or Violence?
According to F.S. 776.031(1) , Dunn would be justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, to protect his property from the shoplifter. In my opinion, the force that would be justified would include physically preventing the shoplifter from leaving the store and possibly detaining him until the police arrive. However, a firearm could not be used to threaten the shoplifter or to prevent him from leaving. According to F.S. 776.012(2), Dunn would have to have a reasonable fear of death, great bodily harm, or the imminent commission of a forcible felony before he could legally threaten the use of a firearm. Shoplifting is not a forcible felony, and even though Lopez has a hatchet, which could be a deadly weapon, he is not using or threatening to use it as a weapon. This means that Dunn does not have a right to discharge his firearm or even draw his firearm from concealment.
At some point during the confrontation, the hatchet slipped out of Lopez’s' waistband and fell out of his pant leg. Lopez then proceeded to pick up the hatchet. This moment could have been when Dunn decided to draw his firearm from concealment. The bad guy has a weapon that could be used to kill or cause great bodily harm. However, if Dunn was genuinely in fear for his life, why would he grab the attacker and attempt to hold onto him? If I were in fear of my life, I would be trying to create distance between myself and the threat, not trying to pull them closer.
Ask yourself this question: In this scenario, was Dunn's only option to stay alive to pull out his gun and fire? In my opinion, the answer is no. Dunn had a lot of different options available before the firearm had to be used.
Option 1. Let the shoplifter go. Let's face it; the item that Lopez was stealing is worth $15. Is your safety not worth $15?
Option 2. Call the police and let them handle it. Dunn has surveillance footage of the thief, and Lopez is a well-known homeless man in the area. The police may not catch him immediately, but they will get him one day.
Option 3. When Dunn initially confronted Lopez, he asked, "Are you going to pay for that?" Lopez replied, "Yes," but that wasn't good enough for Dunn. If he had allowed Lopez to pay for the item, the situation would have ended just as quickly as it started.
Watch the full-length video available online at the Tampa Carry YouTube channel. Simply search “Lakeland FL Shooting of a Shoplifter | Michael Dunn.” In it, you can see that Lopez is holding the hatchet in his right hand as he is struggling to get free from Dunn's grip. Unfortunately, as soon as he broke loose from Dunn's grip, Dunn fired two shots, fatally striking Lopez. Dunn claims that he fired because he feared Lopez was going to hit him with the hatchet. However, I believe this is complete BS. You can see that Lopez's body was naturally pointing toward the exit. All of his weight was leaning out of the door, and at no time did he attempt to use the hatchet to commit a violent act. Not to mention the fact that if Dunn were genuinely in fear for his life, he wouldn't be holding onto the attacker.
What Would You Do?
We all come from different backgrounds. Some of you may own or work in a retail environment where shoplifting is a constant concern. Imagine that you're working when all of a sudden, you spot a shoplifter. What would you do? Maybe you don't work in retail, but you're shopping for school supplies when you notice a shoplifter. What would you do? What are you legally allowed to do? What are you not legally allowed to do? Where is your line in the sand?
Where Is the Line in the Sand?
For me, the line in the sand would be if Lopez attempted to use the hatchet as a weapon, or maybe if he turned his body in a fighting stance with the hatchet raised above his head, ready to strike. This moment would be when I would draw my firearm from concealment and begin yelling commands. During this time, I would also be moving backward to create distance between myself and the threat. Only if Lopez moved toward me or someone else would I be willing to fire.
One of the scenarios I think about often is what I would do during a bank robbery. It's Saturday morning and I'm depositing at my local bank when all of a sudden, two masked gunmen enter the building, screaming and yelling. For me, if these dudes want to steal money, jewelry, or phones, go for it. The money is insured and my jewelry is fake. Pulling my firearm is not worth the risk. However, my line in the sand is if one of the shooters said: "Kill that one" or "shoot everyone." This is my point of no return. This is my line in the sand, and once this line is crossed, I am left with no choice but to pull my firearm and engage the threat.
Why the Michael Dunn Shooting Happened
This incident is a perfect example of a high-emotion moment. Dunn is trying to run a business, which is hard enough, and theft is a significant concern. When Dunn witnessed the thief, I'm sure his blood was boiling. The mistake Dunn made is that he had never played the “what would I do if” game. He never thought about the options that were available to him and the pros and cons of each one. Dunn never determined where the line in the sand was or when he was legally allowed to use or threaten to use his firearm. Shortly after this incident, Dunn was charged with second-degree murder. This case is still ongoing, but it should serve as a real-world example of the consequences of failing to think about and prepare for these types of situations.
When playing the “what would I do if” game, it's crucial to balance the pros and cons of using your firearm in self-defense. In this situation, the only thing Dunn had to gain by using his gun was the protection of his property valued at $15. Let's imagine for a moment that Dunn's found not guilty of second-degree murder. Was it worth the years of stress for Dunn and his family, not to mention the massive financial burden for the criminal and civil trial? Was using your firearm to protect a $15 hatchet worth all of that? Hell no! Dunn would have been better off allowing Lopez to pay for the hatchet and asking him to never come back. However, Dunn was unprepared and highly emotional, and because of that, he made a terrible decision.
That's all I have for today. So until next time keep training and stay safe...
Ryan G. Thomas
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