I think a lot of people who carry a concealed weapon are under the false pre-tense that if they actually have to draw their handgun, it will be a certain shooting situation. Firearms are used for personal defense hundreds of times a day in the US alone and out of those situations less than 1% actually end in an exchange of gun fire or fatality. Chances are highly likely that the introduction of a handgun into a tense situation can bring a resolution. It does not always, and that is why we train to shoot and practice weapon retention and martial arts.
In the cases when your bad guy realizes he is out matched and that today is not a good day to die, you will need to give verbal commands that are simple, clear and will not come back to haunt you in a courtroom if you say them. Using verbal commands may still result in you pulling the trigger, but challenging your suspect at least creates witnesses out of those around you, and you gave the bad guy a chance to surrender.
Not every situation will provide you with enough time to give a verbal warning, so, as you read this run through the various scenarios and apply the warning as you see fit based on your training and experience. Also in a worst case scenario when shots are fired, you should also train yourself to give verbal warning and instructions to the downed bad guy.
I train my students to use a short phrase that is easy to remember, general and minimizes liability. I want to keep it simple so under stress so we are focused on the problem in front of us, and not trying to string words together. The verbal challenge should begin with a sharp attention getting statement, like, “Stop!” If you are in law enforcement this would be replaced with the words, “Police,” or “Sheriff's Office.” As a civilian, I do not advise you identifying yourself as a member of law enforcement.
Once you have a sharp and loud attention statement, follow up with a command, “Drop the weapon!” Notice I use the word weapon instead of gun or knife. Weapon is generic, simple to say and remember. It covers a large variety of objects that could be used as a weapon. A crossbow or screwdriver are equally as deadly as a firearm but under stress, you don't want to divide your focus by trying to identify the object and search your higher brain for the matching word. You want to get your point across quickly and the word weapon sums up everything in a concise manner.
Finally I include what I call the plea, or my witness statement. “Don't make me shoot you!” While it may sound odd to plead with your suspect, what you are actually doing is creating witnesses of the people around you. If you shoot someone, there will be a police investigation and possibly a trial. When that occurs, I want the people around me, the nearby neighbors, etc. to tell the investigators that it sounded like I really didn't want to shoot. While your state of mind is irrelevant under the 4th Amendment test of Reasonableness, (Graham v Connor) we want to create a situation that works towards our advantage.
If a shooting does occur, the words, “Don't make me,” give the strong impression that you as a shooter had no other choice and the bad guy forced you to pull the trigger due to his overt actions. The suspect could have surrendered and you gave him an opportunity to do so during your verbal challenge, but he declined to comply, forcing you to fire.
When we are talking about home defense I recommend a verbal warning as you defend your home, especially at night. While you should have a good flashlight or weapon mounted light (I recommend both) issuing a verbal challenge to someone in your home gives a family member the opportunity to respond or identify themselves and avoid a tragedy. Imagine this situation,” Stop! Drop the weapon! Don't make me shoot you!” and hearing the words, “Dad, it’s me! Don't shoot.” Anytime there is uncertainty a verbal warning might be in order.
Not every situation will give you time to provide an audible warning, and a challenge should only be used when the opportunity arises. Just like giving the recommended warning above, the mere fact you did so also bodes well under court scrutiny. By issuing a verbal challenge, you tried to minimize the risk to the suspect. Anything that helps you on scene and during your court defense is certainly worth considering.
Even if you begin to give the warning and have to shoot, complete your statements and repeat them. For example, “Stop, drop the weapon -BANG, BANG- Don't make me -BANG- shoot you.” Then repeat the statement even if the suspect goes down. In most circumstances pistol calibers do not kill outright unless you target the electrical system of the body (brain or spine) and your bad guy could still be alive on the ground after being shot. Continue repeating the warning to also let everyone know that even on the ground he can still be a threat, and if you have to make follow up shots, you are again justifying your actions on scene and later in court. Just because a suspect is down, does not mean the threat is over and you can still be hurt or killed by someone who is on the ground and injured.
Whether you borrow my challenge or come up with one of your own, make sure it is clear, simple to say and understand and train it!