We all know deadly force is justified when faced with an imminent, credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm. And yet armed self-defenders often make dumb mistakes in the heat of the moment that get them in trouble. While the laws in each of the fifty states vary (be sure to know yours), here are general suggestions to keep you out of trouble:

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, the justification to shoot disappears. Don’t make the mistakes 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 can lead to a new confrontation in another location. Let fleeing bad guys flee unless they’re trying to move to better cover to continue the attack.

2.  Be aware of imminence

Bad guy incapacitated? Stop shooting! Don’t be the pharmacist in Oklahoma who shot an armed robber squirming on the floor (video below). The robber’s new, tattoo-ruining orifices rendered him relatively harmless.

Unfortunately, Mr. Pharmacist took time to reload his revolver and then shoot him one last time. With that final shot, our good guy turned 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 in your house uninvited doesn’t mean you can punch their ticket. Ability, opportunity and jeopardy must all be present in the mind of a reasonable man.

Can you detain a burglar? Sure, but telling them to leave would be the 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 doesn’t truly need shooting.

4.  Avoid defending property

In fact, a good rule of thumb is this: don’t do it. Yes, Illinois 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, the feds can charge you for violating that person’s civil rights.

Mistakes: Shooting someone over a lawn mower like this one.

That goes double for your neighbor’s house. Notice prowlers around your neighbor’s home while they’re on vacation? Call the police, not Mr. 12-Gauge.

An attorney friend of mine relates 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 constituents. A DA may move forward with a prosecution just to save face with the voters.

Bad guys exist. Those with true evil in their hearts, in fact. 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, but if evil is forced upon you, never give up in a fight.



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