As mentioned before, self-defense is one of the main reasons given for gun ownership.
For some gun owners, it’s a matter of potential security – the knowledge that if SHTF, they have a means of defending themselves and their homes. For others, it’s a realized security, having the experience of needing to use their firearm in self-defense in the past.
In this chapter, we’re going to take an in-depth look at defensive shooting, including what it is, what it entails, and what the law says about it.
WHAT IS DEFENSIVE SHOOTING?
Defensive shooting actually begins with defensive gun use, which can be broken into two parts: presenting your firearm in order to discourage a threatening person/s from acting on their intent and firing your weapon to stop a threatening person/s who is acting on their intent.
Whether or not self-defense is your primary reason for owning a handgun (or contemplating your first purchase), the fact remains: defensive shooting is a necessary skill for every gun owner to have.
DEFENSIVE GUN USE AND THE LAW
Defensive gun use laws differ from one state to the next, which makes them difficult to quantify in a general sense.
The first thing you need to look out for is making sure your handgun is legal in your state of residence or any state you visit and may need to use it defensively in. While the legal requirements for defensive gun use to be recognized as such differ from one state to the next, this much is true across the nation: if your particular model is illegal in that state, your use of it is also illegal.
This is one of the reasons why you shouldn’t modify or otherwise alter your handgun without the express guidance of a registered gunsmith. Your actual firearm may be perfectly legal, but the modifications you add to it might be a different story.
You also need to take a look at what your state (or any state you visit) says about how firearms can be carried.
Concealed-carry laws are difficult to get straight, as they also differ from one state to the next. If you’re carrying your handgun illegally, your self-defense argument might not hold up in court. And even if it does, you might still be penalized for illegal carry.
The 4 Varieties of Concealed-Carry
It’s worth taking a quick look at the 4 types of concealed-carry. Because their status by state tends to fluctuate, we won’t be including a list of examples of states for each type. We do, however, have an article of the same name as this subsection that does include such a list, which we try to keep updated as changes come about.
The first (and arguably most Constitutional) type of concealed-carry is the Unrestricted Right-to-Carry. In states that implement this variety, you do not need to have a special permit to concealed-carry, though you do still need to comply with any other local requirements for legal gun ownership.
A second variety is the most Unconstitutional of all: no-issue. In no-issue states, concealed-carry is banned across the board. Thankfully, no-issue states are slowly becoming a thing of the past as they begin to adopt one or the other of the remaining two concealed-carry varieties.
The first of these is the may-issue concealed-carry stance, which dictates every application for a concealed-carry permit needs to be considered on an individual basis by either the state or local authorities. Applicants are also required to show “good cause” (an ambiguous concept) for wanting to exercise their Constitutional right to bear arms via concealed-carry. The authorities have full ability to approve or deny applicants at their own discretion.
Finally, we have shall-issue, which is sometimes a state’s stance while individual counties take up the may-issue or even stick to the no-issue variant. In shall-issue jurisdictions, the state and local authorities review individual applications against a set of predetermined requirements.
They have to adhere to these requirements and are not allowed to approve or deny applicants at their own discretion. Additionally, applicants do not have to supply “good cause” reasoning for wanting to exercise their Constitutional right to bear arms via concealed-carry.
SELF-DEFENSE BY LEGAL DEFINITION AND REQUIREMENTS
Let’s assume your handgun and the way you carry it is fully legal according to the state law. Your defensive use of it may not be.
Traditionally, for a court of law to recognize your gun use as an act of self-defense, you first need to have attempted to deescalate the situation. This can be a little tricky, as the legal code tends to give preference to those who retreat over those who use any kind of physical defense.
And if retreat isn’t possible, you need to demonstrate you used the minimum amount of force reasonably considered necessary in order to defend yourself and/or create an opportunity to retreat.
If that sounds ambiguous to you, you’re not alone.
It’s problematically ambiguous, as a judge and jury of staunch gun control nuts might decide defensive gun use – even mere presentation – doesn’t count as using the least amount of force necessary to defend yourself… even if you were up against a similarly armed attacker.
As a general guideline, however, these next few subsections will help you mentally prepare yourself to legally defend your defensive gun use.
Ability to Retreat
Ideally, if your defensive gun use ends up in a court of law, you’ll have a jury of your actual peers in session. But even if you do, they still need to examine the evidence (including your testimony and that of any witnesses) to try objectively determining your ability to retreat or otherwise deescalate the situation.
Remember: even if every jury member is a gun owner too, when someone with a gun uses their firearm recklessly, it hurts all of us in the public eye. Your peers are not there to give you a get-out-of-jail-free card if you unnecessarily escalate the situation. Their presence is intended to help the court reach a fair and objective ruling.
Ability to retreat can be understood in a few different ways, though. If the attack was ongoing, you did not have the ability to retreat. This includes situations where you did attempt to retreat, but the attacker pursued you.
Likewise, if you were cornered or otherwise trapped, with no possible escape route available other than by getting past your attacker, then you did not have the ability to retreat without resorting to physical defense.
And that’s where the concept of reasonable force comes into play.
If there are no other options left – you can’t merely shove your attacker out of the way or throw them with a nearby object, for example – you may resort to defensive gun use.
This always starts with presenting your firearm as a means of trying to deescalate the situation before resorting to firing it.
It’s worth noting anyone ignorant of how defensive gun use works might attempt to paint presentation in a negative light, calling it “intimidation.” But so long as your attacker had some form of deadly weapon as well and your handgun was the only viable defensive tool available to you at the time, this kind of argument typically won’t hold up in a court of law.
Even if your attacker doesn’t have a lethal weapon, presenting your firearm and giving a verbal warning that you will shoot if necessary can still be defended in a court of law. However, you will still need to satisfactorily demonstrate your inability to retreat and/or use any other weapon (improvised or otherwise).
If you’re unable to do so, you might still face intimidation charges because you unnecessarily escalated the situation.
Firing Your Handgun in Self- Defense
If your attacker is attempting to use or is reasonably threatening the use of a deadly weapon in their possession – be it another gun, a knife, a baseball bat, or anything else capable of inflicting deadly trauma – firing your handgun in self-defense should be recognized as such in a court of law.
However, if you do fire your gun, then shoot to stop. If you merely try to injure the attacker or fire a warning shot, then you will almost certainly be charged with misuse of a lethal weapon. It gives the impression you weren’t truly fearful for your physical safety or even your life.
Remember the first rule of gun safety: never point the muzzle of your handgun in the direction of anything you do not intend to destroy.
The Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground Laws
If you’re using your handgun to defend your property against a home invader, then you can justifiably use the “castle doctrine” defense. This dictates you should not have to retreat from your own home.
Likewise, some states have “stand your ground” laws.
Similar to the castle doctrine, this allows you to present (and potentially fire) your gun in self-defense without the need to first attempt retreating. However, you still need to demonstrate you had reason to believe your physical well-being was endangered – and you might need to additionally demonstrate no other 20
defensive weapons were available to you at the time.
And as always, unless your attacker comes in guns blazing, remember to present your handgun with a verbal warning before you start squeezing the trigger.
DEALING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT AFTER DEFENSIVE GUN USE
Whether you merely presented your handgun or resorted to firing it, call 911 immediately after (or at least as soon as it’s safe for you to do so).
Stick to the bare, basic facts.
Inform the operator you were attacked and were forced to draw your handgun in self-defense. Let them know whether your attacker was wounded or killed in the process, but don’t go into detail. If your attacker retreated, wounded or not, say so.
Finally, provide your name and location.
That’s it. Don’t say anything else, but stay on the line if requested to do so. Politely but emphatically insist you have your legal representative present before providing any further details.
Before law enforcement arrives on the scene, engage your handgun’s safety mechanisms and either holster it or otherwise store it safely away. Once they arrive, notify the officers your handgun is holstered or otherwise stored.
Keep your hands in clear view at all times, avoid making any sudden movements, and narrate your actions before and during if they require moving your hands out of clear view.
Be cooperative and polite, no matter what the officers do. If they want to take your handgun into evidence and/or handcuff you, make a mental note of the fact and comply with the request.
Do not add anything to what you said over the phone. Politely but emphatically repeat your insistence that your legal representative be present before answering any questions. This is to protect you from yourself – you’ll be under psychological stress and might accidentally misrepresent what happened.
PROPER DEFENSIVE SHOOTING TRAINING
Moving onto the last topic in Chapter 3, to properly train yourself for defensive shooting, you need to seek out qualified instructors. There’s only so much you can learn online or from resources like this course, and none of it is capable of replacing actual guided training.
You might only do one or two class sessions – that’s okay. Soak up all the techniques you can and then practice them, both at the range and with dry firing.
Things to focus on include effective combat marksmanship techniques, your grip, the 3-point draw, and maneuvering in all directions with your handgun on target.
You also need to practice for a variety of situations by varying the distance of your target. A good rule-of-thumb is to start with 3 feet (for home defense) and gradually move up to 15 or even 20 feet (for personal defense).
We also find most self-defense situations occur in low-light conditions, with the exception of dealing with an active shooter. For this reason, you should practice in low-light conditions as well. This allows you to take back the slight upper hand assailants assume they gain by targeting victims in low-light conditions.
If your handgun doesn’t have a built-in night sight or a rail for you to attach a light, then one skill that will become even more important to learn is shooting with only one hand. This allows you to hold a tactical torch in the other, which gives you an extra advantage by potentially (albeit temporarily) compromising your attacker’s vision.
One-handed shooting is one of the skills covered in the final chapter.