There seems to be a great amount of national debate these days about whether guns save lives or only take them. There also seems to be a great deal of misinformation on both sides of the coin.
When I am presenting a concealed-carry class, I am often surprised by the amount of laws and legal use of firearms that even gun owners don’t completely understand. On the other side, I am not surprised by the amount of false representation that the anti-gun crowd puts out as the truth.
Before we get too far, I am not a lawyer. I present this as food for thought based on years as a firearms instructor. You should understand the laws in your locale before attempting any action involving using your firearm for defense.
One of the biggest misunderstandings is about the use of deadly force, when it can be used and what it actually means.
For starters, deadly force is described “as any force inflicted on another that would cause serious bodily injury, or death.” That means that “imminent death” isn’t necessary for a scenario to fall under the criteria for use of deadly force. It also means that using any weapon, whether it’s a gun, a bladed weapon, blunt object (baseball bat), or even your hands or feet against another could be considered the use of deadly force.
It also has to do with the amount of force. Pushing someone to the ground might not fall into the criteria, but pushing them off a cliff or in front of a moving car might.
In any case, the use of deadly force should be the last resort. When all else has failed to remove yourself from a bad situation, deadly force may be used. Even then, it will be questioned and scrutinized in court. Every legal gun owner should be aware of that.
JUDGED BY 12?
There also is an old saying that it is better to be judged by 12 than be carried by six. If you have ever sat in jury selection, you might want to rethink that one. Most court cases are decided by the skill of a defense lawyer or a prosecutor. Your story must be believable, and your lawyer must make it believable.
So, bearing this in mind, it should also be noted that the use of deadly force may be used in defense of others. This means that the threat to that other person needs to fall under the same criteria as if the threat were to you. If there is no fear of death or serious bodily harm, you cannot use deadly force to defend another person. In this case, if you stumble upon a situation going down, you had better know the whole story and not just a snippet in time that you have seen.
Let’s look at a scenario already in progress: You come around a corner and see a rather large man on top of a much smaller one. The larger man is using what is commonly called “ground and pound” in mixed martial arts circles. Both men are in civilian clothes, and the bottom man is severely bloodied. What do you do?
At the outset, this looks like a cut-and-dry case of defending the smaller man from a brutal beating likely to cause his death. However, in reality, it could be a good Samaritan subduing a man he surprised who was in the midst of raping a young woman in an alley several blocks away. He has chased the assailant to this point and is attempting to arrest him.
Not knowing the whole story could prove disastrous—for you and the Samaritan. This could have also been a case of the smaller or larger man being a police officer. It’s important to understand all the facts, as much as possible, before taking any action.
DEADLY FORCE ON THIEVES?
Another of the issues that seems to come up often is the protection of property. The use of deadly force is not appropriate to protect property. Catching someone in your driveway stealing your tires or in your backyard helping themselves to your property is not a reason to use deadly force on them. Unless your life is threatened, this is best left to the police and your insurance company.
TROUBLE WITH THE LAW
Several recent cases have caused great problems for gun owners who thought they were doing the right thing when, in fact, they were breaking the law. There was a case in which a home improvement store was being robbed and a concerned citizen followed the robber to the parking lot. She fired upon the departing vehicle, which landed her in jail and later caused her concealed-carry privileges to be revoked. In a separate incident, a man who had been robbed on multiple occasions left his garage door open and killed a would-be robber as he entered. The homeowner was later charged and convicted of murder.
It should go without saying that gun owners have a responsibility to understand the laws regarding the legal use of firearms in general. Perhaps more importantly, they should understand the legal use of firearms used for defensive purposes.
Irresponsible gun owners give fuel to those who attempt to take away our Second Amendment rights. It should also be noted that this is a very small minority of legal gun owners. As a demographic, concealed-carry holders across the country comprise one of the most law-abiding groups—more law abiding than even those who enforce the laws.
Do your part and know the gun laws in your state, as well as those in any state to which you travel with your gun under reciprocity laws.
How well versed are you in your local firearm laws? If you are a concealed-carry holder, how long ago did you attend your course … if you even attended one?
It’s important to stay up to date on your state’s gun laws if you carry. Whether you carry concealed or you open carry, you need to be aware of the legalities of carrying a handgun.
Two ways to do this are to contact your state justice department and ask for a current copy of the state gun laws. The second is to contact a concealed-carry instructor and ask to attend the legal portion of a class. Explain that you already have a permit but want to get updated on the laws. Many instructors will let you attend for free or at little cost. In the long run, it could save you from costly legal battles.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.