The Legalities of Defending Yourself

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

I don’t know about you, but I’m a firm believer in our Second Amendment rights. As I understand the Bill of Rights, they aren’t the government giving rights to the citizens, but the government acknowledging those rights. The right to defend ourselves comes from God, not from Uncle Sam. That’s an important distinction.

I both carry concealed and have guns in my home, for the purpose of defending myself and my family. My wife carries too, for the very same reason. There might be times when I am not there to protect her; in those cases, she needs to be able to protect herself. So I taught her how to shoot, just like I taught my two daughters how to shoot.

But there’s a huge legal difference between the right to own firearms or the right to carry firearms, and the right to use deadly force. A concealed carry license doesn’t make anyone 007, they don’t have a license to kill. Nor does someone being in your home automatically give you a license to kill in some states. It has to be self-defense and the fact that you have to defend yourself has to be something that others can clearly see.

Self defense generally means that you or someone else is in “imminent danger of life or limb.” Okay, so what does that mean? The first part, “imminent danger,” means that it that you are at risk RIGHT NOW! It doesn’t mean that the risk has passed; nor does it mean that you think a risk might manifest. It has to be something that exists in that moment. The legal phrase, “life or limb” simply means that there is a risk of being seriously hurt or killed. How seriously is something that the courts have to decide in each and every case.

There’s another concept that is commonly used in self-defense cases; that’s the “reasonable man doctrine” (or standard). What that says is that any reasonable person, in the same circumstances, will believe that your actions were reasonable.

This can be tricky, because it depends a lot on the culture where you live. Not just the legal culture of your state, but of the jurisdiction that you were in when you had to defend yourself. Some actions could very well be seen as reasonable in Texas, and considered totally unreasonable in New York. Probably the hardest part of dealing with the legalities of self-defense, is understanding how this applies where you live.

Remember the controversial case of Trayvon Martin, who was killed by George Zimmerman in 2012? Zimmerman was on duty as a neighborhood watch volunteer, when he had an altercation with Martin, a young man. During the altercation, Zimmerman ended up shooting Martin fatally.

There were several things that made this case controversial, including the racial element. But the one I want to focus on was that Martin was supposedly unarmed, while Zimmerman was. That would cause any such case to be controversial, in just about any circumstances.

If a woman were defending herself from a man, the reasonable man doctrine would hold that it was reasonable for the woman to use a firearm to defend herself. Some other situations, like a man facing off against two or three assailants would be just about as obvious. Unless the man were a martial arts expert, he would need some sort of weapon. But here we have a man fighting a man, not so clear-cut a situation.

What won the case for Zimmerman was that he was an older man who was somewhat out of shape, fighting off an attack from a younger, physically fit one. In such a case, it was deemed reasonable for him to use whatever weapon was at his disposal; in this case, a gun.

Could Zimmerman have defended himself without a gun? Maybe. But the key here is that he felt that he was at risk of life and limb and the court agreed with him. So he was exonerated. The media didn’t like it, seeing it as a racially-motivated killing, but every I was dotted and every T crossed, according to the law.

Watch Out for the Urban Legends

There are a number of “urban legends” about shooting in self-defense, which just plain aren’t true. These can land you a nice long vacation in jail. So, let’s look at what’s wrong with them.

Legend #1 – If they’re in your home, you can shoot them.

What’s wrong here is that just being in your home doesn’t constitute an imminent threat to life and limb. They may break into your home, steal your stuff, but not threaten you in any way. In that case, using deadly force is unjustified. Likewise, if they turn their back on you, to leave, they are no longer a threat, even if they beat you half to death before that.

Legend #2 – If you have to shoot them, make sure you kill them.

Any time you use a firearm in anger, it should be with the intent to kill. We train to shoot center mass, because in a real-life situation, your shooting skill will be severely degraded. However, while you aiming with an intent to kill, your real purpose is to stop them from being a threat to you. Once they are no longer a threat, you are not justified in shooting them again. So don’t! If you can, stop as soon as it is clear that they are going down.

This legend stems from the idea that if you kill them, you won’t have to face them suing you. But you will still have to face their family suing you, and their chances of winning will be much greater. You’ll also face much stiffer criminal charges, as it will be seen as murder, rather than self-defense.

Legend #3 – If you have to shoot them outside, drag them in the house.

There are a couple of major problems with this one. First of all, if they aren’t in your home, how can they be an imminent threat? About the only way that would be possible is if they are shooting at or into your home. In that case, you are justified in the use of deadly force in self-defense. The other big problem is that you are tampering with evidence, which in and of itself is a felony. Not only that, but it will make the police investigating the incident think that you have something to hide, so they’ll keep digging, trying to find what that is.

I hope this helps you. Please keep in mind that this information is rather generalized. You really need to understand the law in your state, as self-defense laws vary from state to state. The NRA website is a great place to find that information, as well as checking with your local gun shop.

So keep safe and keep your cool if faced with the need to use deadly force. And as always, keep your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand.

Dr. Rich

 

p.s. I need to add a disclaimer here. I am not a lawyer, so don’t take what I’ve written above as legal advice. I am merely trying to provide you with information, so that you can defend yourself. If you have any questions, seek the advice of competent legal authority.

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