I do not claim to be an expert on the legal aspects concerning the justified use of deadly force. I wouldn’t even go as far as to say that I am better informed than anyone else in the firearm-owning population. The subject does, however, interest me quite a bit and I feel as though it is an extremely important one. The trouble with such a subject though, is that it I don’t believe it is ever clearly defined, or rather, it is not a black and white subject. In fact, I’d say that if there were a venn diagram showcasing “justified”, “not justified”, and “ehhh” in the middle, the two circles would almost look like one circle, if you can picture that. If not, I’ll try to find a picture.
Not only do the statutes differ from state to state, but from what I understand, even within states that have a more clearly defined “Stand Your Ground Law”, there is still going to be a judge, jury, and handful of lawyers who will scrutinize the legality of your actions. Not to say that that isn’t how it should be, just underlining the fact that one cannot automatically assume they will get off free of any charges because they felt that they were justified in their shooting.
Keep in mind, much of what I say will be quoting or paraphrasing Massad Ayoob, a foremost authority on the legal aspects of gun ownership for those who are not aware (if you happen to fall into that category, please make yourself aware). Ayoob has several published works on the matter, as well as a column in Combat Handguns called “Self Defense and the Law”. I am going to try as hard as possible not to simply make this a biography/reiteration of his words, but he is so integral to the world of firearms that it may prove impossible.
Ayoob’s book, In the Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection, gives us right in the title a general “rule of thumb” as it were, in regards to when deadly force may be justified. The “gravest extreme” refers to the moment where you have decided that you either have to shoot or be killed. This book was published over thirty years ago (1980) and almost everything written then is applicable today.
There are a great many people who understand that owning a firearm places an immense amount of responsibility on the owner. Especially if said owner is licensed to carry. Although a shooting scenario that takes place in one’s own home isn’t completely cut and dry, the situation becomes much more of a grey area if a shooting takes place outside on the street, in a store, or wherever. If you are outside of your home, one can assume that you are in a place that both you and your assailant are legally allowed to be. As a result, the stance, “he had no right to be here” does not hold water, and the courts must jump to another aspect of the shooting, which is most likely, your word against his (or simply yours), assuming there are no witnesses. Not that the subject becomes instantly easier if there are witnesses. Then the police (and courts) have to deal with possibly conflicting stories because not everyone has the same point of view, and not everyone may remember exactly what they saw or be able to relay it to the authorities correctly (see “My Cousin Vinny“).
Mind you, this is all after the point where you have decided to shoot and possibly kill your attacker. The events leading up to the second when you pull the trigger are every bit as important as the aftermath simply because they will ultimately determine the aftermath. Not only are they infinitely crucial, but they are presumably made in seconds. This makes your decision to shoot reliant on your knowledge, research, and training; all of which must be practiced incessantly. If such a task seems daunting or unrealistic, then the decision to own/carry a firearm is probably a poor one.
There are very clearly many more factors that determine what makes a shooting “justified”, and I would love to see a discussion take place. However, if you are interested in those other factors, and you should be, I strongly suggest that you pick up a copy of In the Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection.
Ayoob, M. F. (1980). In the gravest extreme: The role of the firearm in personal protection. Police Bookshelf.