Using a firearm for defensive purposes is serious business

Self defense

A while back I strolled into a shop owned by a friend of mine. During our conversation he informed me that he was concerned for his safety at his store since there had been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood of late. He knew I had a fair amount of firearms knowledge and that I am a retired police officer. Later during the talk he stated, "Oh, I would never shoot anybody, I just want the gun to scare the guy."

WRONG! This idea of scaring someone with a firearm is ridiculous to consider. Yes, it may intimidate some people but some people may engage you with their own weapon or disarm you and use your gun against you.

We have explored this topic in more detail, take a look here: Draw to Deter or Draw to Kill
What will see you through the incident is your knowledge and experience with people and your knowledge and proficiency with the use of the firearm. Those things, coupled with your understanding of the applicable laws and the preconceived notion that you are ready and willing to use the firearm in self defense are crucial to your survival.

If you wish to possess a firearm of any type, for what you believe is your personal protection, you have to possess the belief that under a certain set of circumstances, you are ready, willing and able to take the life of another human being. To think less than that may expose you to your own death or risk of serious physical injury. In our previous article we talked about: Why It's Important to Dehumanize Your Attacker

Using a firearm for defensive purposes is serious business. Your actual use of the firearm in defending yourself may result in serious consequences for you and your family for the rest of your life.

Specific legal language may vary from state to state but in general the laws pertaining to self defense follow a basis premise. When someone of reasonable intelligence is faced with a set of circumstances, under which that person fears imminent death or serious physical injury, that person may violate statues to the contrary and terminate the threat by use of deadly physical force which may include the use of a firearm.

There are several things you must consider before you commit yourself to such a defensive and drastic action as described above. If you shoot someone under the guise of self defense, there is a chance that you may be arrested at some point during the police investigation. Since the action you took violates the law, the investigating agency is required to investigate the incident and see if the shooting was allowed by legal exceptions. Things they may consider include: could you have exited the scene to certain safety prior to the shooing; were you the aggressor rather than the other person; did the other person have the capability and opportunity to render to you death or serious physical injury? What took you seconds to decide may now take days or weeks of investigation and study by a grand jury. We asked the question in our previous article: Do You Draw On An Unarmed Assailant?

You need to consider your psychological well-being. Most people involved in a shooting are good people that possess a sense of justice and fair play and to be placed in a situation in which they had to kill someone is difficult to justify and accept psychologically. Posttraumatic stress disorder is commonly exhibited by shooters including the police and military. Even if you are cleared by local authorities you will mentally revisit the incident for the rest of your life. Support from family, friends, clergy and mental health experts is essential after a shooting incident.

Even if you are absolved of any legal wrong doing by the police or prosecutors, you may be facing an action in civil court. The person you shot or their family may pursue legal action against you. There is no telling how these proceedings will work out but remember, the standard of proof is less in civil court than that of criminal court. If you are serious about using a firearm for self defense, you might look into providing for some extra protection by buying some self defense protection coverage from an insurance company.

Another thing to consider is the amount of public attention you or your family may receive. Within the past several years there have been instances of shootings that have proven to be legal yet they have generated an inordinate amount of news coverage in the twenty-four/seven news cycle. Would you or your family be able to bear this type of public scrutiny?

One last thing to consider is that as a shooter, you are responsible for all the rounds that you discharge. Maybe shooting is not the best option because the scene is busy with innocent bystanders. Be sure of your target and your target's environment. The round you send down range to stop an assailant but misses, and hits an innocent bystander, is your responsibility also. Saying you didn't mean it will do little to deter the legal consequences of your actions.

These considerations are not meant to scare you but rather to enlighten you and increase your survivability in a shooting incident and its aftermath.

After you have legally purchased and possessed the firearm it is incumbent upon you to know how to use gun legally and safely. You should join a local gun club or shooting range to practice with the gun as much as possible. You should seek training from recognized institutions that teach safe gun handling and that fully explain the legal consequences of using your gun in a self defense situation.

You must be honest with yourself in knowing that in the appropriate circumstance you will be able to pull the trigger. Your health and well being depend on it.

Disclaimer - This article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to specific legal questions, the reader should contact an attorney and or a law enforcement agency, which is located in the jurisdiction of their concern.

Jerry Desko  

About The Author


Jerry Desko spent 27 years as a police officer for New York State. For 20 of those years he was an active firearms instructor and when promoted to lieutenant, he was in charge of firearms training for his region. He has trained hundreds of police officers at the academy level as well as in-service training sessions. Jerry has also competed in police firearms competitions and has been awarded several medals and trophies.