Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Michigan Basic Pistol Safety Class: Firearms Law Module Considerations

The Michigan Basic Pistol Safety Training Class (BPSTC), which is required training for all prospective applicants for a Michigan Concealed Pistol License (CPL), must cover firearms legal training. Section 5j - 1a(iv) of PA 254 of 2004 specifically states that a component of the class must include the following, "Firearms and the law, including civil liability issues and the use of deadly force. This portion shall be taught by an attorney or an individual trained in the use of deadly force."

Thus, a person trained in the use of deadly force is able to teach this part of the BPSTC. This classification of people - qualified by the statute - would certainly include an experienced criminal defense attorney and an active or retired member of the law enforcement community. However, as a prospective student of the BPSTC, you need to assess the relative merits of who would best serve your interests as a student by providing relevant information while preserving your rights under law.

Many members of the law enforcement community not only arrange and provide BPSTC training but they also conduct the legal section training of those classes too. Quite a few of them figure that they can teach the law to their students and save a few bucks that they would otherwise pay to a lawyer. The flaw in that reasoning is that the legal advice that they typically give to their students would not preserve their students' rights in the aftermath of a self-defense shooting incident.

Police officers, especially those at the scene of a shooting, are only interested in one thing: gathering evidence. They make no assumptions about the relative guilt or innocence of any involved persons in the incident. They are not there to win any popularity contests. If they can assemble enough evidence to establish "probable cause" that a homeowner "may" have committed a crime, the homeowner will be arrested.

The police will be especially interested in obtaining a statement from everyone involved in an incident. They are able to use whatever tricks, lies, or subterfuge at their disposal to assemble any facts to establish probable guilt. Certain promises may be made by the police that they have no legal right to negotiate, such as "Tell us what happened and you won't be arrested."

Let the truth be told, if a citizen shoots another citizen - regardless of the circumstances - it is almost a "done deal" that he will be arrested. No amount of talking will change that. The person being investigated by the police would be wise to exercise his rights: the right to remain silent, the right not to self-incriminate, the right to due process, and the right to counsel.

Personally, I was once part of a firearms training team, early in my gun safety training career, that featured a police officer conducting the legal training for a BPSTC. This particular officer was adamant in his presentation that CPL licensees, involved in a shooting, make certain admissions to the police: the number of assailants, how many shots were fired, and what general directions those shots were fired. The rationale offerred by the officer was that the police needed that info to establish whether any other innocent third party was injured by an errant shot.

His explanation sounded reasonable to me at the time and I am sure that the students in the class were also appeased by his response. However, my opinion - today - as a seasoned and independent firearms instructor, is markedly different. In hindsight, that advice and rationale for a person involved in a shooting incident to make a statement was atrocious.

For one, statements once made can never be retracted. Those statements are documented and are now classified as "evidence." Many times, the police have just about all the evidence they need to make an arrest but lack one essential part. Often the lynchpin comes from a statement made by the person being investigated who wants to avoid spending a night in jail.

Secondly, as taught in a bona fide BPSTC, a person involved in a defensive shooting incident is in no shape to make any statements. He may be experiencing a number of physiological effects: adrenalin dump, tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, and time distortion. Any combination or subset of those conditions could cause a false statement to be made. As stated earlier, once a statement is made it can not be taken back.

Thus, for all of the aforementioned reasons, a prospective BPSTC student should find training where the legal training module is not conducted by a member of law enforcement. Police have a "built-in" bias to want statements to be made in order to make their jobs in the field easier to investigate and to make arrests. This increased efficiency, however, comes at a cost: the sacrificed rights of the accused.

The only person, who should be trusted to provide legal section training for a BPSTC is a bar approved criminal defense attorney. He will provide legal training that is focused on the student's best interests: preserving their rights.

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