How Not to Get Shot in a Traffic Stop

I’ve heard a lot of advice over the years, but if you ask me, the following things make the most sense:

  1. Don’t tell the officer you’re armed unless you’re in a state where you’re legally required to. This goes against the advice of a lot of trainers (who tend to be former cops and who also tend to know how to deal with armed civilians). Not every cop who pulls you over will be Massad Ayoob. Don’t talk about it, and definitely don’t touch it. The only negative encounter I’ve had in a stop has been in Texas, where I was legally required to inform. In all other cases, I’ve kept my mouth shut and things went smoothly.
  2. Note that the first bit of advice will only work if you’re not likely to be searched. That’s most of us, but not all of us. If you live in a “duty to notify state” or you fit the profile for being highly likely to be searched, you’ll need to inform the officer. When you inform the officer, don’t even think about uttering the word “gun.” If an officer hears that word, and misses some context, there can easily be an overreaction. I’ve heard this advice from Massad Ayoob at NRA’s legal seminar, and I like it. Turn your license to carry over with your driver’s license and inform the officer you are carrying, where the firearm is, keep your hands on the steering wheel, and ask him what he would like you to do.
  3. Do not, under any circumstance, make any sudden move once the cop knows you’re armed. Don’t reach for your wallet unless the officer knows what you’re going to do and OKs it. Don’t reach for anything. Don’t do anything without the officer giving you the OK. Don’t even itch your nose. Some cops will want to disarm you. Others will just tell you to sit tight and keep it holstered.

In my case in my Texas stop where I had to inform, the cop asked me to unload and make clear, then took the firearm. I was glad he had me do it. One of my fears with “duty to inform” is having a cop relieve me of a firearm who does not have good trigger discipline. That’s a big reason I’m a proponent of the first item: keep your mouth shut if you legally can and you’re not likely to be searched.

I’d rather deal with the fallout from “Officer, I will comply with your order to get out of the vehicle but I need to inform you that I have a license to carry and I am carrying. Please tell me what you want me to to do,” than to risk being the next Philando Castile.

The dash cam video in the Castile case is now public. If you carry a firearm legally, you should watch this:

The officer claimed he reached for the weapon. I shared Bob Owen’s belief on this:

While I have strong doubts about the validity of Yanez’s claims that he thought Castile was reaching for a gun, how do prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Yanez’s response to that perceived threat was both unreasonable and criminal?

A jury found the claim reasonable, or at least credible enough to support the Officer Yanez’s self-defense claim. I was not on the jury, and I did not follow the trial closely. If someone did, feel free to chime in if you have information I don’t.

But if you inform an officer that you’re armed, and then move for the gun, or move for your wallet or something else, even if your intention is to hand it over to the officer, you’re running a very very severe risk of being shot. Once you inform, and you should have your hands in plain view on the wheel when you do, do not do anything that the officer does not first order you to do.

UPDATE: I should mention, though it won’t help you avoid being shot, is recording your encounter. If Castile’s girlfriend were recording the whole encounter, and not just after the shooting, it could have changed the entire dynamic as to whether the officer’s actions were reasonable.

33 thoughts on “How Not to Get Shot in a Traffic Stop”

  1. I don’t know about not getting shot, but from personal experience when I was a young guy, I’ll add the following, which were useful for not getting physically shoved around and abused:

    4. Do not drive a car/truck that might suggest you are poor, powerless, or unsophisticated.

    5. Don’t wear clothes that might suggest you are poor, powerless, or unsophisticated.

    6. Don’t wear a hairstyle that isn’t currently cool, that might suggest you are poor, powerless, or unsophisticated.

    7. Look like your family can afford an attorney.

    I’ll leave out the race issues, because as a white kid I had no experience with them, and other people have stated them already, with more validity than I could contribute.

  2. Someone always has to throw the race card. Where’s the evidence that Yanez is racist against black people. Show me. Anything. Anything at all.

    How about the much more obvious explanation for why Castile was shot–he was apparently reaching for a gun after being told three times by Yanez to not do so.

    Seriously, reverting to racism as your go-to move when there’s a clear and evidence-based non-racist explanation for an event demonstrates nothing as much as it does a profoundly limited intellectual capacity.

    1. “Someone always has to throw the race card…”

      Isn’t that kind of like saying you hate poker because someone always plays cards that are red or black?

      The fact is it’s an issue in the game, and while we can disagree on the degree to which it is a factor, it’s a factor. So what you are saying is that for some reason you’d prefer that an issue in the game not ever be raised.

      I’ll come slightly your way, and point out that my opening comments above were about being poor, powerless, and unsophisticated, and I personally believe those are more often the factors that to a cop spell “easy victim,” than does race, per se. But to the extent that race can suggest that a potential victim is likely to be poor, powerless, and unsophisticated, it becomes a factor.

    2. To deny that there is, at the very least, a racial bias at work in the minds of many police officers is putting your head in the sand. Does this mean that Yanez and other officers are KKK-style racists? Of course not. But when Philando Castile is stopped by police 52 times in the course of 14 years, and he has nothing on his record worse than traffic issues, clearly something is going on. Have you been stopped 52 times by police in your entire life, much less in 14 years?

      Although I’m not a big fan of him in general, I suggest you take a look as Trevor Noah’s take on this:

    3. Are you aware of the statistics that show that those with CCW’s are CLEARLY more law abiding than LEO’s are? They are convicted of crimes at a much lower rate than cops, who are much more likely to not even be charged, let alone convicted, for any crime to begin with.

      On top of which, the most common charge for a carrier is some sort of violation of carry regulations, and not a real crime.

    4. I don’t believe the race had much to do with. But irrational fear and misinterpretation did. Just because the officer said “don’t pull it out” doesn’t mean Castile was.

      In the end, he should have been convicted. Very bad shoot.

  3. Racism is more believable than a guy politely saying he has a gun and then reaching for it.

  4. My take is that Castile made errors. Those errors in front of a cop who was not scared and racist would not have ended in his death. My view is that Yanez over reacted. I was not on the jury and do not know what the prosecution paraded as evidence. But, that is the view from where I sit.

    1. “My view is that Yanez over reacted.”

      I remember well a case here in PA where a civilian overreacted in a similar situation, and went to jail for eight years, I think for Murder-2.

      Cops can overreact with impunity; you and I can’t.

  5. The one time I was stopped (DMV left a zero off my plate) I kept my hands on the wheel and said I had a carry permit. That’s what my instructor recommended. He was former DSP and said sometimes troopers get a little nervous when you say “gun”. And I didn’t make a move without instructions. That said said, I still think the cop panicked.

    1. I never take my hands off the wheel until the cop asks for my license or whatever.

      1. Have your driver’s license, registration, proof of insurance and CCW license out on top of the dash before the cop approaches the car so you don’t have to dig for a wallet. Then keep your hands on the wheel at high noon. If you have to lean over to get cards out of the glove box, he’ll see you do that, so leave the box open afterward so he can see you weren’t stashing contraband.

  6. One of the first things my wife and I noticed was how calm the GF was during the video. “Hey. My BF just got shot. How about that. I think I’ll go on Facebook and casually talk about it”.

  7. From my one experience being pulled over while carrying, I have a reasonable idea on how it might have happened. And Both the officer and Castile would carry part of the blame if I’m right. (Sadly, we’ll never know.)

    When I was pulled over in WA (no requirement to disclose CPL). I kept my hands on the Steering wheel, waiting for the officer to instruct me. I did inform him that i have a CPL. He asked if I was carrying. I said yes. He asked me where it was. I told him it was IWB on my right side. And asked him what he’d like me to do. He said just keep it there and it will be fine.

    Here’s where it could have gone horribly wrong. My wallet was in my Left-side back pocket. Either he asked me to provide it or I offered to produce it. But without thinking, I reached with my right hand to undo my seatbelt, so i could get clear enough to reach my wallet. I realized it as I was unclasping the seatbelt, and continued to get to my wallet with the other hand. Everything when smoothly after that.

    The officer could have seen my move toward where my gun was, and reacted. Why didn’t he? Three reasons:
    1) He had hung back, so he was at my 7-8 o’clock position. he undoubtedly he had his had on his service pistol. So he had time on his side if I was going to draw my pistol.
    2) I had done everything in my power up to that point to let him know I had a weapon. Most bad-guys wouldn’t have been so forthright.
    3) I was well-dressed, white, the only person in the vehicle (less potential threats that in Castile’s case). In other words, he’d already figured I was not a threat.

    So if i had to do it over again, I’d get my wallet out before the officer can get to the car.

    1. Based on what I have read, I think your scenario is very likely.

  8. I was stopped once with a gun, at a rest stop. I actually had gotten out of my car and suddenly had three cops around me and my car. The lead cop asked for my DL, which I gave to him with my CWP and at this point he asked if I was armed (which was weird). I said that I was and that I had also handed him my permit. Then the cop literally asked me to hand him my gun.

    Uh, no.

    I raised my hands and said, “It’s behind my right hip. Why don’t you get it?” Cop took it out of my holster, looked at it and my paperwork, and said, “Well, we were looking for a white guy in a Mustang with a gun who’s wanted for murder, but it doesn’t look like it’s you. Have a nice day.” And then he gave me my stuff back.

    There was no way in hell I was going to take my gun out myself with two other cops standing around. Would’ve sucked if they hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation.

  9. True….what you do during a traffic stop can get you shot. The real problem however is that
    you can get shot for DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. If a
    cop decides they want to shoot someone and you happen to be the one they stop next then YOUR ASS GETS SHOT. And all the cop has to do is utter
    a few magic incantations such as “he made a furtive gesture”, “he reached for his waist”,
    “I feared for my life” and voila….it’s a legal
    shoot. NO ACTUAL PROOF REQUIRED. The system is set up and designed so a cop cannot be convicted unless IRREFUTABLE PROOF is offered that he lied, AND that he had malice AND that he violated department policy. The standards required for a cop to be convicted of a specific crime versus a non cop are INSANELY different.

    The reason is those in power simply DO NOT CARE if occasionally one of us peons dies at the hands of the Schutzstaffel by mistake…or just
    so the cop can have a thrill. We simply do not matter to them. Which is why when the bleat about ‘gun control’ it’s BS. They don’t care about guns, crime or our safety, they only care about control. That is why they want us disarmed and why they hire bullys and sociopaths
    to serve in their praetorian guard. They don’t want smart people as cops…..and the US 2nd Court of Appeals has ALREADY RULED that it is acceptable for departments to refuse to hire people who test as being too smart. Can’t have someone smart enough to ask the wrong questions. They want willing brutes who don’t mind using violence to keep the sheep in line. And when you hire brutes you GET VIOLENCE.

    In reality, whether you live or die when you interact with badgemonkeys has very little to do with what YOU do and mostly revolves around how
    the cop is feeling that moment. Is he scared (bullys and sociopaths are notorious cowards), is he angry, is his GF cheating on him, did he just get his ass chewed by the watch commander….ALL these factors have far more bearing on how your interaction with the cop goes than what you do. The system is screwed…
    corrupt and evil beyond description. And nothing will change or improve till the whole thing is torn down and we start over. Cops are
    nothing but tools for those in power to terrorize and keep the sheep in line. Don’t expect anything but violence from them as that is WHY THEY WERE HIRED.

    1. Damn, I wish I’d said that! ;-)

      (Does anyone remember that cartoon (in Playboy?) c. 1968 for which that was the caption?)

      And speaking of nostalgia, who remembers when it was a cliche’ that it was the class clowns and bullies in our high school classes, who would become cops?

  10. Way too much emphasis on videos today even when they are not manipulated by the media. Any question of justification depends on the totality of the circumstances. The video was one piece of evidence which the jury saw but obviously there were others. I recall a video of a police shooting in CA when the cruiser cam appeared to show an officer shooting a man in the back as he was walking away. However, there was another cruiser cam that had a different angle where you could see the shootee drawing a gun from his waistband. The Castile case was less clearcut but it really all comes down to whether the officer had reasonable belief to believe that Castile was reaching for his gun. We will never know whether he actually was but the officer (or anyone else) isn’t required to be right only to have a reasonable belief. The jury concluded that he did after examining all the evidence. I am unwilling to second guess them. I don’t approve of trial by Internet.

    1. “too much emphasis on videos today even when they are not manipulated by the media.”

      Or the cops who took them and had first crack at them. . .

      1. If you have any evidence, we would all like to see it. We do know that the media cooked the Rodney King video and the Zimmerman audio.

  11. Sebastian,
    In a number of states, if you have a carry permit from ANY state, that will show up on one or more of the databases that the cop can utilize in a stop.

    Here in CA, they track how many permits are issued to county residents from Utah (surprisingly high numbers here in Silicon Valley). I’m guessing they do the same for all other states. I was surprised when I got questioned if I was armed during a couple minor traffic stops (no tickets issued), until I read a story with this data included.

    You do recall the family from FL that got stopped on I-95 in MD, solely due to the permit that popped up on the cop’s screen while he was scanning license plates? He was hunting for legal guns on an interstate. Their license plate readers can be programed to alarm for any number of flags, not just for expired registration, or being on the stolen list. (Anyone remember how that lawsuit ended, or is still being worked on?)

    More and more, databases are being interconnected for the cops to use, so expecting your silence to keep you from being hassled by a cop is no longer realistic. I still wouldn’t volunteer it, though. Systems are not always functioning, lazy cop, etc.

  12. Very good points. I’ve been stopped a couple times when I was carrying and never informed. But I kept my hands on the wheel until instructed to produce documents. Which I do whether I’m carrying or not.

  13. BTW, how many of you check for correct function of ALL your lights on your vehicle, on a regular basis?
    NOT just lens condition, but ALL the bulbs/elements that are contained there.

    Don’t forget tire pressure.

    I suspect that anyone who does is highly likely to be a motorcycle rider. Mostly due to them being much more likely to be harmed by poor or non-functioning parts on their vehicles.

    Frankly, I’m appalled by the problems I notice on vehicles I’m sharing the road with.
    If you can VISUALLY determine that a radial tire needs air, it is DANGEROUSLY low. That tire will suffer a catastrophic failure at some point. By that I mean that it will fail suddenly, and not be repairable.

  14. Kind of late now; but Massad Ayoob has weighed in on this case. You can read his thoughts here:

Comments are closed.