It is not hard to see an increasing rollout of local, state and federal law enforcement in response to disasters and large gatherings of citizens, lawful or not. One need only look to major news reports of various protests, standoffs and riots between 2016 and 2018 in the U.S. to see the extent of government force in action. Whatever your attitude about police in general, it makes one uneasy, certainly.
While far from routine in the U.S. deployment of military forces in accordance with a declaration of martial law is rightly a significant concern for many proponents of self-reliance. The question, the point of all this is of course the looming worry that police or military forces may use deadly force against civilians, against their fellow citizens, when fulfilling their government ordained objectives when trying to bring order to chaos after a severe incident.
The question is: should you expect to be shot by military or police when the shit has hit the fan?
Should You Worry?
That is the bottom line for many preppers pondering this occurrence. Should they worry about being shot by their ostensible protectors? In a high-stress ongoing crisis, what level of force will military troops or police officers resort to keep order, hold the line, keep people in, keep them out, or whatever? Is there ever a scenario where you should expect to be shot by peacekeepers? Is that ever justifiable?
All good questions and you are right to ask them. In any event bad enough to raise it, much will change. Life as you know it will cease, at least temporarily. It will be difficult to predict the attitudes and motivations of those who have been set out at the government’s command, and similarly difficult to predict how far they will be willing to go to achieve follow orders.
Based on recent and past events, we can probably surmise under what conditions you could expect government forces to fire on their fellow citizens. It probably won’t be like a movie or TV show, with wholesale slaughter of civilians on a whim. That being said, there are more than a few plausible scenarios that may result in a civilians, even massed in a large group, being fired on.
As ugly as it seems, the potential exists that, whatever their motivation, police or military could be another hazard to be avoided in a survival or post-disaster scenario. You should plan now in case, God forbid, that turns out to be the case.
I am writing this article predominately for U.S. citizens and Westerners. While all their police forces are controlled with varying degrees of centralization and have different basic attitudes on the use of force against citizens when operating under a state of emergency, no Western country has a engaged in systematic oppression or killing of citizens outright in such times.
Similarly the U.S. and other Western countries do not deploy their militaries in support of preserving law and order in times of chaos, though all of them have provisions to do so in extremis. Accordingly, I do not believe that the standing forces of any of them would engage civilians with gunfire unless they perceived a valid, important reason to do so. Those hypothetical reasons will be a significant fraction of our discussion today.
Nonetheless, all of those forces I mentioned have in place use-of-force policies or rules of engagement that permit lethal force against threats and aggressors. At the very least, if you were perceived as a threat to one of them or to someone else they may think it warranted to fire on you. The same threat exists with your fellow citizens in the U.S.; if you are perceived as a threat to life or limb, you can expect to be shot.
In summary, I am not presenting any opinions or musings in this article with the assumption that the wide-scale deployment of police or military forces for stabilization and peacekeeping missions will mean they will be gunning down survivors who don’t fall in and toe the line. Instead I will be presenting considerations that may result in civilians being shot, even in large numbers in pursuit of objectives that our leaders and politicians deemed vital to the nation’s survival or best interest. Objectives that may have a dreadfully serious price tag attached.
Those are the scenarios you should be concerned about because I believe they are far more plausible.
When Should You Expect to Be Shot?
The following assumes that police officers or troops have been deployed in response to a severe disaster or other situation where lawlessness is an ongoing concern and threat to the safety of survivors. Speaking generally, in such a situation if you are acting like a bad guy you should expect a higher than normal chance of being shot.
If curfews are in place and you are caught after hours, you should expect to be hassled. If you resist, you should expect to be shot. Acting in a threatening way toward your fellow man or especially toward LE or military personnel will see you shot in pretty short order. True, their RoE or UoF policy may dictate a lesser degree of force be used against anything less than a lethal threat, but not always. Extreme times make extreme measures seem more appropriate, even reasonable.
If you are caught looting in a time when supplies are being rationed, or even “redistributed” for common good you may get a bullet for your trouble. Stealing food from the starving or medicine from the sick is always meant with contempt from those who are arbiters of supply in such times. Never mind you may be desperately scavenging for the same things for your ailing family, good luck explaining the difference between “looting” and “scavenging” to personnel assigned to suppressing that exact behavior.
Generally, if you are acting like a bad guy (“bad guy” being subject to the perception of your shooter), or flagrantly threatening cops or troops, you may get smoke-checked with little warning.
What might be a little harder to determine would be your chances of getting popped by police or shot by soldiers is in a quarantine or restricted movement situation. If a segment of the population is being kept from traveling freely or contained inside a specified zone then attempting to buck those restrictions on passage may see you shot with little or no warning.
Imagine it: a particularly nasty bio-weapon attack has seen a major American city and its surrounding bedroom towns decimated with casualties. The viral weapon is extremely contagious, lethal, highly transmissible. Understandably the government wants to prevent this unknown agent from “jumping the gap” at all costs. Hard cordons are setup around areas of greatest infection and absolutely no one without an alphabet soup agency on their ID and a blue plastic moon suit is allowed in or out of town.
Miraculously, you and your partner are uninfected, but people are dropping like flies. You are low on essential supplies, and are too scared of contracting the bug to venture out scavenging or trading with neighbors. You decide “away” is the only option. You hear the broadcasts and announcements from helicopters that any attempt to leave will be met with force. You have heard more than a few gunshots, but couldn’t say what kind or where they came from.
What do you do? Do you risk approaching known personnel? Try to sneak by? Or stay and risk getting fatally sick? Talk about a dilemma. Would soldiers shoot potentially sick victims of the bio-weapon, knowing they are scared and just trying to get help? What might their orders actually be? Is their commitment to duty stronger than their sense of ethics? Is it ethical to shoot a victim that may potentially spawn a hundred or thousand more from their panicked flight? Tough questions…
Another scenario where it is tough to tell how fast authorities may go to guns is in the wake of major civil unrest or rioting. This may be a follow-on event from a city-wide or regional catastrophe. Whatever the cause, people are being herded off the streets and told to stay at home. The situation has deteriorated enough a state of emergency has been declared.
Several cops have been killed by improvised incendiaries and a baker’s dozen more injured from thrown objects and bullets. The mayor’s flimsy call for calm an obvious ineptitude has only emboldened the worst elements of the city’s malcontents, who cranked up the mayhem even more, clearly having the time of their lives. The police have responded in kind.
It started with more punitive treatment of anyone even being near the rabble-rousers. Severe beatings. You cannot say it is not warranted. You notice a lot more rifles being carried at checkpoints and in the 2nd line ranks of the roving police units. You start hearing the sharp report of rifles more often when police encounter “disruptive” groups of citizens. Soon anyone on the streets is considered disruptive. The cops are way over-worked, stressed out and at their breaking point. All things that lead to poor UoF decisions.
It may be hard to forgive, but things like that have a way of growing out of the control of even the most disciplined. Cops are only human. Is it worth leaving your home to risk being frog-marched or shot? You can say whatever you want about the injustice of it, but save your rant for later; you must deal with what is. Reality is a cruel mistress.
How to Avoid Getting Shot by Authorities
As mentioned earlier in this article, in any but the most wild, severe or chaotic situations you can expect military and police to act with a certain amount of professionalism and adhere to their mandates regarding lethal force. That being said, they are just people. Armed people, but people all the same and knowing how to interact with them in a way that will put them at ease and minimize tension will help keep the same amount of holes in your body you were born with.
First, try to discern what the cops/soldiers are expecting. If they are standing around relaxed or with rifles slung, you probably do not have to worry about being shot on sight so long as you don’t surprise one of them badly. If they are manning a post or checkpoint, you can expect to be challenged if you approach. How close you can approach without an intervention taking place depends solely on the situation and their discretion.
If you notice a lot of gunfire consistently originating from a certain position or area, you should assume they are either actively fighting or are expecting trouble coming from a certain direction. Respond accordingly; don’t present yourself from a known free-fire zone.
Second, follow instructions to the letter, especially if you are held at gunpoint. Don’t make any moves beyond what you have been told to do, and do so in a smooth, slow, controlled manner. Jerky or furtive movements will likely trip a trained shooter’s “threat” response and result in you getting filled in. Think carefully before moving that nothing you do may be perceived as reaching for a weapon.
Third, relax! Strange advice, right? Seriously, people with guns, no matter who they are, from a combat hardened Marine to a Congolese gunman in the middle of nowhere to an inner city mugger all expect the presence of their gun to create a certain pliability with people it is pointed at, even generally. After all, that is what guns are good at!
So indulge them! A smile and an easy attitude along with scrupulous obedience says the same thing everywhere: “I am not a threat, you are in control.” If you are tense, agitated or fretful, your gunman might start to think you are someone worth shooting for whatever reason.
Lastly, you might want to seriously consider concealing or ditching any obvious weapons on your person if a heavy-handed force of military or law enforcement personnel set up shop in your town. It is not hard to imagine a scenario so dark that armed citizens are treated as threats automatically by law enforcement or military personnel
You can bet your bottom dollar that every single cop and trooper you see patrolling the streets of Anytown, USA in the aftermath of a major incident will be wearing body armor of one type or another. It is a fair idea for you to do the same. Appropriate body armor while heavy and often expensive, is cheap insurance against torso hits, even rifles. Body armor is a fair idea for any protracted crisis, and especially prudent in areas of dense population or pre-SHTF high crime.
Getting hit on the plates will still suck, but will probably save your life.
It is hard to fathom the notion that your nation’s sworn protectors, its cops and soldiers, may turn their guns on their fellow citizens in pursuit of a greater good. As terrible as that sounds, you will still, probably, have to be a bonafide bad guy, extremely stupid, or just go far out of your way to be shot by government forces in the wake of a severe disaster.
Nevertheless, take the time to understand what their likely rules and reasons are for firing their weapons, and you’ll be one step ahead of the blundering masses. Don’t paint a bullseye on your chest and you should be fine.