You have the right to use deadly force when faced with an imminent, credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm. This applies even in anti-gun, anti-self-defense jurisdictions with Soros-funded prosecutors like Chicago. At least for now…
While very few defensive gun uses are pure and clean as the wind-driven snow, most remain fairly clear cut. After all, thanks to the Graham v. Connor Supreme Court precedent, the law doesn’t demand perfection from the good guy’s actions, it merely requires they be reasonable. Sadly, armed self-defenders often make dumb mistakes in the heat of the moment – things that aren’t even close to reasonable – that get them in big trouble.
Obviously a prudent person will know and understand the laws in their own state. No matter where you live, though, here are some of the most common ways good guys can and do run afoul of the law — or even end up dead — in use of force incidents.
Our own Steve Davis, attorney and practicing firearms instructor, came up with many of these and I’ve added a couple.
1. Don’t chase/pursue/shoot at fleeing bad guys
Once the immediate threat to you and other innocents ceases and the bad guy(s) retreats, stop. Your justification for using deadly force has just ended. Don’t make the mistake of the guy in Florida who continued to shoot at fleeing bad guys, killing one. He’ll spend decades in prison for his trouble.
Furthermore, chasing bad guys may lead to a new confrontation in another location. That new location will have a whole new set of witnesses and the pursuing “victim” from the first scene will look a lot like the aggressor at the new location. That will increase the risk of one of those new witnesses having their own gun and possibly employing force to defend who they see as a retreating victim.
The lesson here is simple: Let fleeing bad guys go. Period.
2. Be aware of imminence
Bad guy incapacitated? Stop shooting! Don’t be the pharmacist in Oklahoma who shot an armed robber who was squirming on the floor from already being hit (video below).
Unfortunately, Mr. Pharmacist took the time to reload his revolver and then shoot him one last time. With that final shot, our good guy turned into a murderer in the eyes of the law.
The same goes for the homeowner in Minnesota. He shot two wounded burglars “with a good, clean finishing shot” to put them out of their misery after the initial volley of shots left them writhing on the ground.
3. Beware the ‘My home is my castle’ fallacy
Just because someone is on your property doesn’t give you the right to brandish your gun or make threats with it. In fact, confronting trespassers can escalate a situation quickly. Remember the best way to win a gun battle . . .
Don’t get into one.
In your home, you have a more latitude to use deadly force against an uninvited “guest.” However, just because you have an intruder doesn’t automatically mean you can punch their ticket.
Ability, opportunity, and jeopardy must all be present in the mind of a reasonable person. You must be able to articulate that you or a family member faced an imminent risk of death of great bodily injury.
And just because you can use deadly force doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action. There are a lot of negative consequences and fallout from pulling the trigger. Don’t believe it? Just ask George Zimmerman. Or Kyle Rittenhouse.
Can you detain a burglar? Sure, but telling them to leave would be the far smarter move. If they’ve got your TV, tell them to take the remote too and be on their way. There’s far too much downside to using deadly force on someone who isn’t threatening you and doesn’t truly need shooting.
4. Avoid defending property
In fact, a good rule of thumb is this: don’t do it. Yes, Illinois, Texas, and some other states allow for the use of deadly force to prevent a burglary or forcible felony.
Illinois law, for instance, allows the use of deadly force against someone breaking into your car or shed. While your local prosecutor may decline to prosecute if you shoot, the feds can charge you for violating the person’s civil rights.
In this day and age, it’s more likely than ever that you will be prosecuted when using deadly force against an unarmed bad guy. And juries aren’t filled with a dozen Guns Save Life members. There will be people there who have grave reservations about using deadly force, even in a “clear” case of self-defense. Others simply might not like guns. Then there are potential racial angles.
Imagine testifying that you shot some kid who was trying to steal your old, well-used Craftsman lawn mower or your 40-year-old Weed Eater. Good luck with that.
Better to call the police, wait inside your home and let the cops take care of it. That’s why you have insurance.
That goes double (maybe squared) for your neighbor’s house. Did you notice prowlers around your neighbor’s home while they’re on vacation? Instead of grabbing your 12-gauge, grab the phone and call the police.
Steve Davis also related an additional tidbit that’s worth considering: “No state’s attorney is going to risk re-election for you.” That goes double if you shoot one of his or her constituents. A DA may move forward with a prosecution just to save face with the voters.
Bad guys exist. Many with true evil in their hearts. Denying the existence of evil has no survival value. Evil people won’t hesitate to hurt you for their own enjoyment or to take something of yours they want.
5. Keep the proper mindset
Avoid trouble. Stay out of stupid situations with stupid people at stupid times. Use your situational awareness, avoidance and de-escalation skills. At the same time if evil is forced upon you, never give up in a fight.
6. Have an attorney present before you answer questions from the police.
Even if you feel your actions were completely within the law and should be clear to any reasonable observier, DO NOT talk with the police until you’ve had a chance to speak with an attorney. Know what (few things) to say to responding cops.
As an attorney once said, you have the right to remain silent, but very few people have the ability. Ron White also said the same thing.
You carry a gun so you’re harder to kill. Know how to interact with responding police after a defensive gun use so that you’re harder to convict.