When Can You Use a Gun in Self-Defense

In Home Defense Tips by homedefense

This question is asked all the time by many gun owners and it’s imperative that if you own a gun, you need to understand the gun laws in your city and state. Every state has different laws that will tell you what you can or cannot do when it comes to self-defense shootings. We will offer you some important information concerning gun use, but to really know what you are legally allowed to do with your gun, to protect and defend yourself, you have to confirm the specific legal regulations for your own city and state.

We are not giving you legal advice, but rather just basic information concerning using your gun in self-defense.  

Stand Your Ground Law

stand-your-ground law (sometimes called “line in the sand” or “no duty to retreat” law) is a justification in a criminal case, whereby defendants can “stand their ground” and use force without retreating, in order to protect and defend themselves or others against threats or perceived threats. Referenced from Wikipedia

Here are the states that have passed stand-your-ground laws: (The list was provided from FindLaw.com)

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia

There are some states that have adopted stand-your-ground-like doctrines. Those states have not been included on the list.

The Duty to Retreat States

The states below have laws imposing a duty to retreat. This basically means if you can retreat or get away from a dangerous situation, you cannot use deadly force. The other end of the spectrum of this scenario is if you were cornered with no way to retreat, then you can use deadly force to protect yourself.

These states have some form of duty to retreat so you need to understand the law in your state. (This list was provided from FindLaw.com.)

  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Missouri
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

How to Know When to Shoot

The most important question about using your gun is, “When can I shoot someone in self-defense?” The answer is when you or a family member is at risk of being killed by an attacker. You have a few situations where it gets hard to determine if someone is there to hurt you or just steal your stuff.

Let’s look at some difficult scenarios where you can use your gun in self-defense:

*You may have a stranger come up to you while you are getting out of your car. The criminal pulls a knife out and tells you to give your purse or wallet. It’s probably that the thief just wants your money, so give up your purse or wallet first. If the thief just takes your money and starts to run, there is no need to pull your gun out and shoot the criminal as he runs away. This would be tough to claim self-defense. He didn’t physically attack you or threaten to kill you, so you have no grounds for shooting him.

*You could have someone break into your home at night. You hear a noise and get up to check it out. You come face to face with a burglar. The burglar comes at you and you have your gun, so you shoot him. This is a situation where you had some stranger in your home coming at you, so this would likely be considered a justified case of self-defense. If that same burglar turned and ran away from you, it’s a tougher decision to make, but I personally would not shoot. I know you only have seconds to decide with the incidents we are describing, but if someone is running away from you, it’s best not to shoot. Instead, I would at this point make sure the family is safe and call police.

If you use a gun to stop an intruder, it will be evaluated to see if deadly force was necessary. The main question will always be: “Was the use of a gun absolutely necessary with the circumstances that happened?” You can’t just start shooting someone because they punched you or slapped you in the face. You can’t shoot someone if they are verbally threatening you. If you use deadly force to kill someone, they need to have attacked you in a way that made you fear for your life. If the burglar had a knife and came at you or had a gun that was pointed at you, then it would be clear that deadly force was needed to defend yourself, because your life was at stake. This decision could save you and your family’s life.

Here are some questions people ask after a deadly force incident.

What happens to you and your gun after a self-defense shooting?

Hopefully someone called the police to have them come to where the location of the shooting occurred. The police will not know the full situation, so you may be asked to lie down on the ground and put your arms behind your back. The police will handcuff you until they can figure out what has happened. They may take you to the police station. Just do what the officers say and do not resist, because once they figure it all out, you will probably get released.

The police are looking at all the evidence and the facts of what happened. You will be interviewed, so make sure you have an attorney present during the questioning. This type of incident would be very stressful, so when you are trying to talk to the police, you need a lawyer to help you through the questioning. The gun you used in the shooting would be confiscated for evidence and at some point, once you are released, the gun would be given back to you. This all depends on if the prosecutor believes that you shooting and killing an intruder was self-defense and you had no escape route. (This is a basic layout of what can happen, but it can be a much more complicated process than what we have described.)

If you shoot someone in self-defense will you go to jail?

We have talked about this above a little bit. I am going to try to lay this out in a simple format just to make it easy.

Self-Defense Shooting Situations that make jail time less likely:

If someone attacks you with a knife, gun, bat or other dangerous weapon while you are home or outside of your home and you need to defend yourself and you own and carry a gun, you would shoot the aggressor to stop the life threatening attack. If you fear for your life, you can use deadly force to stop an attacker.

Police or the courts are not going to lock you up for stopping a violent attack. You are justified in the fact that they came at you with a weapon looking to do you serious harm. You have the right to protect yourself at all costs.

Self-Defense Shooting Situations that make jail time more likely:

There are probably situations where you would want to refrain from using deadly force with your gun. One scenario would be if you are at home and someone broke into the house to rob you. You would grab your gun and yell to them that you are armed so the criminal better leave your house. If the robber leaves the property but you shoot and kill the thief as they are trying to escape, then you are more likely to go to jail because you were not under a life threatening attack.

You have to use some common sense, despite the stress of any threatening circumstances. When you own and carry a gun, it’s critical to be careful while deciding if you should use it in the midst of an attack. If the situation you are in is diffused by you just showing the gun, then you do not have the option to shoot the attacker. You should not shoot anyone who has stopped their aggressive behavior. You also cannot shoot anyone who hasn’t physically laid his hands on you, or threatened you with a weapon. I would call the police and still have my gun ready in case they turn back around. The majority of criminals do not want you to shoot them, so they will just run away from you if they know you have a gun.  

This is only a basic guideline of what may happen if you use deadly force with a gun. You need to understand your state laws if you will be using a gun or other deadly weapons for self-defense. You also need to make sure you have your concealed carry and the training necessary to carry a gun.