Over the Christmas holiday, my wife and I traveled to our home state of North Carolina to visit family and friends. As I typically do, I traveled with my concealed carry firearm. As an Arizona CCW licensee, North Carolina law allows my carrying there as well, through interstate reciprocity.
While there, we knew we would need to make some specialized, last-minute gift runs for a couple of my cousins. So the day after we arrived, Christmas Eve, we made what we thought would be a quick trip to the closest mall around my aunt’s house – Northlake Mall in Charlotte – to pick up a gift card or two.
As we stood waiting in the checkout line at one of the internal shops, all of the sudden a mass of shoppers started screaming and running through the atrium of the mall. Of course, I had no idea what was going on initially but I could hear many of them shouting hysterically, even somewhat incoherently. But among the near-instant chaos, a few words stood out clearly enough: “shooter,” “shooting,” and “gun” chief among them.
At this point, everyone in the store understood what I did, that something terribly wrong was going on and that they needed to get to safety. Fortunately, the store in question had a rear employee area that could be barred and locked, so the customers – including my wife – immediately rushed to that back area and shuttered the door. As I was armed (and apparently no else was), I left the store for the atrium to try and discern what exactly was going on and try and provide some level of immediate defense if warranted and necessary.
At this point, I still did not know what was going on other than what little the frightened people fleeing were screaming in passing. I could not hear any gunfire, but my immediate thoughts nonetheless turned to the worst of possible scenarios: an act of terrorism on the order of the ones executed in Kenya and India. As a threat assessment, I have always been concerned with the inherently attractive target of a mall for potential terrorists. They are generally soft targets, tactically attractive due to their common openness and often-times “gun-free” environment (either statutorily or culturally). Add to that the religious symbolism that the Christmas holiday offers and the increased concentration of last-minute shoppers and you can see why they might be attractive to such carnage. This was where my head was at, but I know better than to actionably draw such conclusions without at least some supporting evidence.
So in light of the absence of good intelligence on what exactly was going on and a general unfamiliarity with the layout of the mall, I chose to stand pat and provide cover for my wife and the rest of the shoppers in the store, if needed, rather than blindly flee, not knowing for sure if we might run headlong into a dead end (pardon the expression) or directly into otherwise avoidable trouble.
As the store manager closed and locked the main doors to the store, I and a couple of other patrons lingered out in the atrium as the fleeing crowd dispersed. (One of these men was an active duty Marine lieutenant, who ironically pointed out that he had picked on hell of a day to not carry). We were certainly not looking for trouble, but if trouble found its way to me and mine I felt compelled to present a harder obstacle to any aggressor’s designs.
Although any reader of this blog knows I am a steadfast supporter of the theory and practice of personal defense, I have always felt it foolhardy to go looking for trouble when carrying a firearm. I cannot stress enough how ignorant of the specific relevant circumstances we all were, for a solid 30 minutes or so at that, after the initial hysteria gripped the mall’s shoppers. If I would have charged headlong toward the direction from which the crowd fled, I could have stumbled into a situation already being assessed by law enforcement officers (LEO), or into one in which I was grossly outnumbered/outgunned, or into a situation in which I mistook another concealed carrying good guy for the aggressor(s) (or who knows what else).
None of these potential outcomes would have done my wife, me, or the rest of those customers any good, obviously. Instead of seeking trouble, I decided to stand guard in and assess the general area, which was the best course of action given the circumstances. Obviously, if I had witnessed directly an innocent person(s) being assaulted, ethics would have demanded a much different course of action altogether. But again, there was no immediate way for me (or anyone not directly involved) to know what was taking place at that exact time, or where, or amongst whom.
But within about 15 minutes, the police notified the store employees via telephone that the threat had been eliminated. At the same time, virtually everyone disappeared from the atrium and no activity at all was occurring anymore. It was eerily calm and silent. When the store manager unlocked the doors again to let everyone out, my wife and I quickly egressed to the closest exit which I was able to identify while assessing the atrium area previously. At this point, we still did not know what was going on, but the way out was clear. All told, it took about 30 minutes to start gleaning details from Facebook, Twitter, and the local news agencies as to what transpired.
And as it happens, the incident involved a troubled young man who was legally barred from owning (due to multiple felony arrests) or carrying (due to his age) a firearm but somehow managed to obtain and carry one anyway, despite the many state and federal gun control laws already on the books meant to prevent this outcome. According to WBTV in Charlotte, the young man “had been arrested ‘at least 11 times’ since 2013.” He apparently engaged in a verbal and physical altercation with someone(s) which seemed to escalate to a point where he fired his handgun multiple times. When he reportedly pointed the firearm at an off-duty Charlotte LEO (working part-time security for the mall), the officer shot and killed him. Fortunately, this is another case of a CCW wielder reactively and legally addressing government failure in violent crime prevention before anyone else could become a victim of this failure.
In the end, it took a good two hours to exit the mall property. In a highly disappointing display of the sheeple mentality over plain good sense, hundreds of the mall’s patrons made mad dashes to their cars only to bottleneck the exits and go nowhere for quite some time. The resulting bottlenecking prevented emergency responders from entering the mall’s parking area, and what really made this shameful to me is that no one seemed muched concerned by this. A definite “me first” mentality was on full display. In the end, though, no one (other than the criminal shooter) was critically injured, thankfully, but this clearly could have been much worse if the situation involved a person or people with more grievous intent.
One thing this incident confirmed for me is the appropriateness of concealed carrying for personal defense. This real world experience has fully solidified my convictions on this point. It is one thing to theoretically support such a notion with no direct experience in the matter, which I long have. It is an entirely different perspective altogether, however, when your values and ideas are buttressed with visceral personal experience.
Being a combat veteran, I am no stranger to people wishing to do me harm. But I always wondered in the back of my mind if a civilian personal defense situation would feel the same – and I can say, unequivocally, that they do not. In combat, there were always mitigating degrees of comfort provided by the certainty of your training, your available intelligence, the support of your brothers-in-arms, and the superior training, firepower, equipment, and logistics at your immediate disposal. When moving to contact, your very purpose is to engage in violent and dangerous confrontation, so you know you are likely to face the enemy, which provides its own comfort in its own way. When shopping for Christmas with your family, however, you have none of these advantages or conveniences at your disposal and you have no idea if/when/why/how something will transpire. I can confirm now, at least for myself, that this is an entirely different feeling and one which makes me (and others) thankful I carry whenever and wherever I legally can.
Thus I can truly say, without any hesitation or doubt, and beyond just the theoretical, that concealed carrying is the way to go to provide some measure of immediate responsive counterpoise to people with potentially ill intent toward myself and my family. Now more than ever I compare a CCW to a seat belt: I am not expecting to need it, but if I do, I certainly do not want to regret not having it available for use.