Private Campus Officers and Immunity

The Georgia Supreme Court recently decided a case concerning private campus officers and qualified immunity.

The first sentence of the decision is as follows:

“We granted certiorari to decide whether a campus police officer employed by a private college qualifies as a “state officer or employee” who may assert immunity from tort suits under the Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA), OCGA §§ 50-21-20 to 50-21-37.”

In a previous piece, I outlined the statutory authority of campus law enforcement agencies.  Let me be very clear that this case pertains only to the the campus police agencies of private colleges.  It has absolutely, positively nothing to do with the campus police departments of public educational institutions.

The legal question arises from a case handled by the Agnes Scott College Department of Public Safety (ASCDPS).  The personnel involved are fully certified peace officers.  They attended the same academies as do deputy sheriffs and municipal police officers.

The ASCDPS received a report from a student claiming that she had been sexually assaulted in her dorm room.  She named a suspect.  An officer from the ASCDPS went to a judge and obtained an arrest warrant for the suspect named by the complainant.  The suspect was arrested in Knoxville, TN, and extradited to Georgia.  The suspect offered proof that she was in Knoxville at the time of the alleged assault, and the District Attorney dropped the charges.  The suspect then filed suit against the officers and Agnes Scott College for false arrest.

The officers sought to have the lawsuit dismissed claiming immunity under state law.  The initial trial court rejected this argument; however, the Court of Appeals overturned the trial court.  To simplify the writing of this, the statute provides that law enforcement officers have immunity, but the statute also excludes private organizations.  The appellate decision was split.  The state Supreme Court recognized the reasoning of the appellate decision but overturned the decision due to Agnes Scott College being a private organization.

So, yes, the ASCDPS officers are in fact law enforcement officers, but as they work for a private organization, they are not covered under the state’s immunity laws.

Again, this ruling does not apply to the campus police officers of public institutions.

Now that the legal question has been settled, the actual lawsuit is clear to go forward.

Class Review: Performance Shotgun with Erik Lund

“Every shotgun is a snowflake.”  –Erik Lund

Having previously taken a rifle class from Erik Lund, I welcomed the opportunity to take his Performance Shotgun course.  Erik was assisted in this class by Tod Lit.

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Of note, I have been firmly camped on the Remington 870 side of the Remington versus Mossberg question for several decades, but I won a Mossberg 590A1 in a drawing, and rather than learning my way around it in privacy, I thought it a much better course of action to trot it out in front of a group of people so that they could witness the process…

I did carry along a trusty 870P just in case I needed my security blanket.

The 590A1 in question has been upgraded to a Magpul forend, a Dave’s Metal Works aluminum follower and a Big Dot sight.  From previous experience, I have found that the Bog Dot sight works really well for buckshot, but slugs at 50 yards start to become a challenge as the sight covers up so much of the target.

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This class was not a basic or introductory class in that we didn’t spend time on basic loading and unloading drills or rudimentary discussions on shotgun ammo.  Erik did take a few moments to dispel a couple of shotgun myths.  One of these was the oft repeated notion that the sound of a pump shotgun action being worked was enough to win an encounter.  Another was the myth that a pump shotgun was more reliable than a semi-auto shotgun.  While this may be mechanically true, it is not true of shooter induced malfunctions.

As for technique, Erik is a proponent of consistency across platforms.  As such, his stances for pistol, carbine, and shotgun are all similar.  He stresses being balanced and having your hips oriented towards the target.

After the introductions and safety briefings, we jumped right into the shooting.

We began with a patterning drill.  Erik described shotguns as “every shotgun is a snowflake” stressing that even across the same lines of ammo and firearms that they will perform differently in each shotgun.  This was proved correct during the patterning drill.  As for buckshot, the clear winner for tightest pattern was the Federal Flight Control 00 buckshot.

From there, we did a few basic manipulation drills making sure that everyone was up to speed with the operation of their particular shotgun, and then we moved to reloading drills; a lot of reloading drills.  Both strong and support hand drills were taught.  After we worked through all of theses different drills, Erik told us to pick the one we preferred and to use it for the remainder of the class.   We worked predominantly from a sidesaddle.  Most of my previous shotgun work has been done using a belt mounted ammo carrier.  While I prefer loading from a belt mounted carrier, I do believe that working from a sidesaddle makes more sense as the ammo goes wherever the gun goes.  It is a much simpler equation to simply grab the shotgun and go than it does to take the extra steps of affixing belt carriers.

Personal note:  I strongly suggest using a sidesaddle that attaches by means other than the action pins.  These are often installed incorrectly, usually due to over or under tightening  of the pins, causing malfunctions.  I’ve also heard of the additional stress on the pins leading to their breaking.  I once had an issue to where the action wouldn’t lock, but everything looked fine. 

As to reloading techniques, we predominantly focused on those that would be used by the typical armed citizen or peace officer, but we did get to play around with a few of the competition oriented techniques, and Erik and Todd worked individually with any of the three gunners who wanted to work specifically on those techniques.

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After the extensive reloading work, we shot slugs at 25 and 50 yards and practiced slug integration (slug exchange, select slug, etc) techniques as well as handgun transitions.  A note on the Big Dot sight is that using the top curving edge of the sight at distance makes getting hits at distance a more reliable prospect.

We wrapped up with a few fun-and-gun drills.

 

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As for the 590A1, all in all it performed well.  I experienced no mechanical malfunctions.  The difference in the location of controls did get me a couple of times.  The guy shooting next to me commented on one such occasion,  “It looked like you got into your truck but somebody had moved the seat.”  As the day went on, it did begin to become less awkward.  It never quite got to the point where it pointed as naturally for me as does an 870.

A couple of things that I prefer about the 590 are the lack of a loading gate and the fact that the ejector can be replaced with a screwdriver rather than returning the firearm to the factory.  I will also grudgingly admit that location of the safety switch has some advantages.   If an identically equipped 870 and 590A1 were next to each other on a rack, and I had to grab one and go, I’d probably grab the 870, but after this class, I would feel comfortable picking up the 590A1.

Logic Me Not

Regardless of where you come down on private citizens carrying firearms in public, and no matter what your views are concerning Georgia’s House Bill 60, the complete failure of logic occurring among the governing authorities of some Georgia counties and municipalities is astounding.

Under current state law, it is illegal to carry a firearm into a “government building”.  Here is the definition of a government building from 16-11-127 O.C.G.A.:

(3) “Government building” means:

(A) The building in which a government entity is housed;

(B) The building where a government entity meets in its official capacity; provided, however, that if such building is not a publicly owned building, such building shall be considered a government building for the purposes of this Code section only during the time such government entity is meeting at such building; or

(C) The portion of any building that is not a publicly owned building that is occupied by a government entity.

(4) “Government entity” means an office, agency, authority, department, commission, board, body, division, instrumentality, or institution of the state or any county, municipal corporation, consolidated government, or local board of education within this state.

Currently, the only thing keeping armed criminals from entering many government buildings within the state is words on a piece of paper: a written law.  Outside of courthouses, active security screening is not present in the majority of government buildings.

HB60 changes state law as to carry into government buildings.  Effective July 1, 2014, it will be legal for the holder of a Georgia Weapons Carry License (GWCL) to carry into government buildings that do not have active security screening.  It will still be illegal for those who do not hold a GWCL to enter such buildings.

Now, as to the logic failure, a simple perusal of media outlets indicates that there are numerous city and county governments contemplating installing security equipment and hiring security staff to conduct screening at government buildings that do not currently have such security measures in place.

That’s right, the city and county governments in question who before were not worried about armed criminals entering their buildings thus they took no measures to stop it are now taking active measures to prevent legally armed citizens, citizens who have undergone background checks and obtained licenses no less, from entering.

One more time: no security measures to prevent armed criminals from entering versus security measures to prevent legally armed citizens from entering.

That’s right; people who took no steps to keep out armed criminals are taking steps to keep out people who have actually passed background checks.  I just wanted to make sure everybody was clear on that.

But wait, the law said criminals can’t enter government buildings with firearms, and we all know criminals are so good at obeying laws…

Praise the Lord And Pass the Ammunition: Georgia HB60

The Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 60 which made changes to Georgia’s firearms carry laws. For the most part, my opinion is that this a good piece of legislation in that it clarifies some ambiguities, and more importantly, it clearly codifies into law what the courts have already ruled: there is no firearms exception to the Fourth Amendment and the mere presence of a firearm alone is not sufficient reason to detain a citizen.

Unfortunately, there is one portion of the bill that will prove to be problematic. Currently, all places of worship are “off limits” for Georgia Weapons Carry License (GWCL) holders. Under HB60, the governing bodies of places of worship may take the affirmative step to allow firearms carry on their premisses and at their services. Unless this affirmative step is taken by a respective place of worship, it will remain an off limits location.

Rather than take the position that places of worship are private property and treating them just as any other private property in the state, the legislature has created tool of division that is going to ripple through congregations throughout the state. Some congregants will be mad because the governing body of their particular place of worship chose not to allow firearms carry. Likewise, some congregants will be mad because the governing body of their particular place of worship took the opposite approach.

Furthermore, suppose the congregants and governance of an individual church desire to allow carry; however, the church is part of a denomination and the powers that be for the denomination go the other way and impose said ruling upon all member churches. The individual church breaking away from the denomination is not a simple matter as that might seem. In some denominations, the congregation does not own the title to the church building, the denomination does. This could lead to court battles over control of church property.

I am not normally a “the sky is falling” type person, but I simply foresee a lot of consternation and strife coming from this. Stand by for the law of unintended consequences.

Class Review: Advanced Tactical Pistol with Ken Hackathorn

“Under stress, you have got to have skill… Situational awareness is the single most important skill.” –Ken Hackathorn

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Eighteen shooters turned out for a rainy Saturday and beautiful Sunday of shooting with one of the foremost instructors in the business. Participants came from at least three states, and the class was a mix of private citizens, federal agents, and the Sheriff of a Georgia county.

Ken Hackathorn 2014 - Tactical Handgun

Ken Hackathorn 2014 – Tactical Handgun in Atlanta, Georgia

 

We began with a discussion of common elements found in self-defense incidents. That was followed by a discussion of current trends in the firearms industry and the firearms that he is most commonly seeing coming through his classes now.

We then moved on to the live fire portion of the class and did some basic shooting and assessment drills so that he could see where we all were as shooters. The drills were pass/fail drills shot against a standard. We shot these as a mix of individual competition and the entire class shooting the drills altogether. We also shot some pivot/turn drills as well as some reloading drills. After a supper break, we had a low light session.

Sunday was a full day of shooting. The focus was primarily on shooting while moving. Added to that was some strong-hand-only and support-hand-only work.

Of note, we shot some point shooting drills. One of these drills involved a lot of movement and with our sights taped over. We then shot the same drill using sights. The evolution in which the sights were used had better results. Imagine that; that little bumpy thing on the muzzle end is actually there for something…. might as well use it. (Note: that is a poke at people that say you don’t need your sights inside certain distances. It is not a poke at the drill or the instructor.)

As for what he was packing, Mr. Hackathorn was toting a Hackathorn Signature Series 1911 from Wilson Combat. There was quite a bit of friendly banter back and forth on this issue as he is an unabashed fan of the 1911 platform.

Ken Hackathorn 2014 - Tactical Handgun

Ken Hackathorn 2014 – Tactical Handgun in Atlanta, Georgia

I enjoyed the opportunity to spend a couple of days with someone as venerated as Ken Hackathorn. I particularly enjoyed the back and forth banter and all of the historical insights.

Ken Hackathorn 2014 - Tactical Handgun

Ken Hackathorn 2014 – Tactical Handgun in Atlanta, Georgia

And now for a bonus science lesson:

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Class Review: Rogers Shooting School

“Reactive shooting is shooting in the target’s time and not the shooter’s time.” –Bill Rogers

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The Rogers Shooting School is one of the most prestigious shooting schools in the world. Some of the world’s most elite military and law enforcement units come there each year, and “The Test” is well known among the shooting community. I won’t go into a detailed explanation of The Test. Rather, click here to go to Todd Green’s site for an excellent break down and videos of each stage. A minimum passing score is 70 plates and earns a Basic rating. An Intermediate rating is earned by getting 90 or more plates, and an Advanced rating is earned by getting 110 plates. There are 125 total plates possible in The Test.

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During my trip to Rogers, I was witness to a memorable event in shooting history. Now in its third decade of operation only two people had ever shot perfect scores on The Test. The founder, Bill Rogers, has done it twice, and the legendary Rob Leatham has done it once. In my class, two perfect 125s were shot. One was by Gabe White, and the other was by noted USPSA shooter Manny Bragg. If that wasn’t enough, Gabe White did it shooting from concealment.

I think the best way to describe Rogers is that it forces the shooter to maintain a strong mental focus. Any lapse leads to a cascading collapse of fundamentals and numerous steel plates taunting you as they drop out of sight.

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Shooting my advanced run under the watchful eye of Gunsite’s Ken Campbell

I am happy to report that I earned an Advanced rating.

Participants in the class came from as far away as Alaska. We also had participants from Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Indiana, California and Florida. We had a full gamut of weather from short and t-shirt weather on Sunday evening followed by rain on Monday and Tuesday to freezing temperatures on Wednesday and a beautiful day on Thursday. We managed to finish on Friday before another round of rain hit.

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Class Review: Rangemaster Combative Pistol I

“You don’t have time to miss.”

I could stop right there and sum up the essential lesson from the class, but that wouldn’t make for much of an adventure through the blogosphere.

Tom Givens of Rangemaster brought his Combative Pistol I class to my proverbial backyard. He was assisted by John Hearne, Jeremy Younger, and the lovely and gracious Mrs. Lynn Givens. There were 24 students in the class, including one who came all the way to Georgia from Pennsylvania only to be topped by another student who came all the way from New Mexico. The class was a mixture of private citizens and peace officers.

Due to logistics, we did all of the classroom work on the first morning of the class. The classroom portion consisted of a safety briefing followed by discussions of several real world incidents and the lessons learned from them. We then moved on to a discussion of basic techniques.

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After lunch, we convoyed to the range and began the shooting portion of the class. We began with warm-ups and then moved into drills all designed around specific teaching points.

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Day two consisted completely of shooting drills, and other than the initial warm-up, everything was shot from concealment.

Rather than going into the specifics of each and every drill, I’ll simply say that each drill had a specific purpose, they built upon one another, and they gave the students a structured way to practice in their own range sessions. We also shot several scored tests to assess our skills and our progression, and there were several drills where we shot on our own against the clock with everyone watching to kick up the stress factor.

 

Now I can move to the most important part of the class review:

The firearms training community is full of devotees to schools of thought who are not bashful about espousing their particular chosen sacred cow and then dogmatically defending it. Tom did a very good job of explaining why he teaches what he teaches, and he also explained many of the other schools of thought often including their origins and how they have been misinterpreted over the years. The focus was on efficiency and precision rather than such things as a Weaver versus Isosceles or  caliber debates. The pace was quick with students either shooting or loading magazines with no downtime other than a few short breaks, and the discussions were all brief and on point with the lesson at hand.

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I’ve been in a lot of classrooms over the years between my academic pursuits and professional training, and Tom is absolutely one of the top teachers I have experienced. His lessons are more than proven. Over 60 of his students have successfully defended themselves in violent encounters. The very, very few that have lost failed to have a firearm with them when they needed it.

Below are my results on two of the tests:

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Shots In The Back: Not Automatically A Bad Shooting

Those whose  education on the use of force and the dynamics of a shooting incident is limited to the typical “western” movie or TV shows are indoctrinated to believe that shots in the back automatically make a shooting a bad shooting.  The fact of the matter is that this simply isn’t the case.

I highly recommend the articles found at the following two links.  They do an excellent job of explaining of how a good shooting just MAY result in shots to the back.  This applies not only to peace officers but to armed citizens as well.

http://www.forcescience.org/articles/forcescienceresearchcenter.pdf

http://www.forcescience.org/shotback.html

Legal Requirements for a Road Check in Georgia

I am not looking to get into a debate concerning road checks, roadblocks, check points, or whatever you want to call them.  That is not the purpose of this posting.  The purpose of the post is simply to provide the information as it was requested.

To download and read an article from the  Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia on the topic: click here.  The article goes over the history of the Georgia court’s rulings in this area as well as two recent case that expanded upon the requirements.  I’m not going to rehash all of it since it is readily available.

The short version is that here are the seven requirements handed down by the Georgia courts to consider a roadblock legal are:

1.  The roadblock was implemented pursuant to a checkpoint program that has, when viewed at the programmatic level, an appropriate primary purpose other than general crime control;

2.  The decision to implement the specific roadblock in question was made by a supervisor in advance, and not by an officer in the field;

3.  All vehicles that passed through the roadblock were stopped, rather than random vehicle stops;

4.  The delay to motorists was minimal;

5.  The roadblock was well-identified as a police checkpoint;

6.   The screening officers staffing the roadblock possessed sufficient training and experience to qualify them to make an initial determination as to which motorists should be subjected to field sobriety testing; and

7.  Under the totality of the circumstances, the stop of the defendant was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Again, I am not looking to get into a debate concerning roadblocks.

2014 Polite Society Tactical Conference

The 2014 Polite Society Tactical Conference was held on February 21-13, 2014, at the Rangemaster facility in Memphis, TN.  The three-day conference consisted of numerous presentations by an amazing collection of knowledgeable instructors.  Three different options were available at any given time to attendees, and a myriad of topics were covered.  While I did attend a few presentations on other topics,  I tried to attend those that dealt with what is known about what happens in violent encounters; especially what those who won the encounters did and how they prepared, and these are the presentations I will discuss in this piece.

Before I get to that, I would like to thank the folks Rangemaster for organizing and hosting this conference.   The chance to partake of that much collective knowledge was a wonderful learning opportunity.  There were times when it was difficult to choose which class to attend as the concurrent options were all equally appealing.  I took 24 pages worth of notes, and many of the takeaways from the sessions will be incorporated into our training program.

William Aprill’s presentation concerning how violent criminal actors (VCAs) select victims forms the cornerstone for this area of discussion.  It basically comes down to the VCA making a “go or no go” decision based on indicators by the person they have targeted.  This is really no different than a lion surveying a herd of lion food and picking which member of the herd will be dinner that night.

Shane Gosa, a fellow Georgia peace officer, presented “The Mental Trigger” based on Jeff Cooper’s Principles of Personal Defense as well as other pertinent information.  Shane also addressed items such as mental awareness and winning the violent encounter rather than merely surviving it.

Tom Givens’ presentation on “Defining the Threat” was outstandingly well done.  Mr. Givens approached the question from the perspective of a citizen and not that of those in the military or uniformed patrol officers, and his breakdown if the information is the best I have ever seen.  His presentation (as was Chuck Haggard’s) on active shooters was nicely done, and quite frankly, I don’t understand how anyone could receive that information and then go about without the means to defend themselves.  As for active shooters, or active murderers as they should be called, every examination of the topic that have seen shows that the more rapidly force is brought to bear on the murderer the lower the body count.

Jim Higginbotham’s “Fire for Effect” presentation focused on accuracy in a critical event.  I found his illustrations of how many of the qualifying and competition targets actually reward high point values to areas that are not likely to instantly incapacitate a violent attacker to be quite revealing.  In my words, a fellow can kill you a whole lot if you give him 15 seconds to do it.

John Hearne did an outstanding job of debunking many of the myths and outright falsehoods that permeate firearms training.  I’m not much of a “science guy”, but his explanation of how the brain works was done in an easy to understand manner, and he makes a strong case for training to the point of “overlearning” (fancy scientific term) and building the proper mental maps and skill level as predictors for success in a violent encounter.

At this point, I would like the readers to take note that there is some commonality when both peace officers and private citizens are faced with a violent encounter, and overcoming the “initiative deficit” is imperative.   The difference here is that peace officers often initiate contact with the VCA whereas the private citizen is targeted; however, it is the response to that violence that must come swiftly and decisively, and the preparation shouldn’t begin at the point a person realizes there is a need for such.