Use of Force: Understanding Deadly Force

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 4.07.49 PMThe following should not be construed as legal advice and reading what appears below should not be a substitute for thoroughly researching the laws in your state, city or county. Every jurisdiction has laws and regulations unique to itself and it is YOUR responsibility as a lawful gun owner and practitioner of concealed carry to know what they are and how they pertain to you. Before you leave home with your concealed firearm, seek legal counsel from the proper competent authority.

There is nothing we in the United States value more than life itself. It is sacred and most people will go to extreme lengths to preserve it. When we discuss firearms, and their use as a tool for personal defense, we often talk at length on such topics as which is the best firearm to carry concealed, which caliber has the most stopping power and is it better to carry inside the waistband or out? While these are all areas that should be thoroughly thought out and discussed, they pale in comparison to the study of the use of deadly force.

So I ask you to give serious thought to this question, when is the use of deadly force authorized?

As a daily practitioner of concealed carry, it is crucial that you know when you can, and when you cannot take another person’s life, and when you can and when you cannot discharge your firearm. While the two may seem at times disconnected, they are for sure one in the same. When confronted with a self-defense scenario that prompts you to remove your weapon from its holster, and discharge it, you are accepting that fact that the bullet will most like strike another human being resulting in the death of that human being.  For this reason, it is crucial to have answered some very important questions prior to doing so.Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 4.32.46 PM

What is my target?  Do they pose an imminent threat to my life or personal safety or that of another innocent person? Am I lawfully to be where I am? Am I lawful to possess and use a firearm in the particular jurisdiction I currently find myself in? Is the use of my firearm the only option in order to protect myself and others?
Some of those questions, like what is my target, must be answered when the time comes, if it ever does, to use your gun. Some, like, am I allowed to be where I am with my gun can be answered in advance of finding yourself in trouble. But regardless of when they are answered, they must be answered correctly.

Most of the question are self-explanatory and don’t warrant much of a discussion. What does warrant a discussion, and a thorough one at that is when is it lawful to use deadly force? Let’s first answer the question, what is deadly force? Most police departments and legal scholars define it like this:

That force which is intended to cause death or grave injury, or which creates some specific degree of risk that a reasonable and prudent person would consider likely to cause death or grave injury.

If you shot a person, no matter what your intent is, it will be considered in the eyes of the law as deadly force, whether or not the person dies. If you kill a person with your firearm, you might as well take it to the bank that you will be on trial for doing so, and at that trial, it will be up to you to convince a jury of your peers that you were justified in doing so. Anything less than a trial, and consider yourself lucky.

During your prosecution, those questions I outlined above will be asked and the answers you give had better be the right ones. But the most important question will be whether or not your life or the life of another innocent person was in such peril, that taking a person’s life was the only option you had. Could you have called the police to intervene? Could you have talked your way out of the situation? Could you have run away? These, and many more questions like them will be asked. And the answers to some will be different depending on where you are. But the fundamental question will always be the same. Was taking another person’s life my only option?

When may an officer use deadly force? Here is how my local police department answers that question:

“An officer my use deadly force to protect themselves or others from what they reasonably believe to be an immediate threat of death or critical bodily harm.”

While most of you reading this are not police officers, the above statement on the use of deadly force surely applies to any law abiding citizen employing the use of deadly force, sworn police officer or civilian. Let’s take a look at this statement.

Reasonable and immediate are the key words to remember here. Is it reasonable to think that a person standing across the street holding a brick can do you much harm? No, but close the distance to a couple of feet, and that same subject holding a brick surely has the ability to cause you serious injury or death. Same badguy and same weapon, but different circumstances make the use of deadly force reasonable in one scenario, and unreasonable in the other.

Next, is the threat immediate? Again, a badguy with a brick yelling that he is going to kill you from down the block isn’t an immediate threat. Swap the brick for a pistol, and the threat now can be upgraded.

Those examples may not necessarily be the best, but you get the point. The situation will dictate when deadly force may be used. You must evaluate each situation to determine if the threat is reasonable and immediate.

You also need to evaluate every situation based on your own personal and distinct circumstances. A 120 pound grandmother may find it difficult to fend off a 150 pound, 20 year old hell bent on doing her harm, but a 180 pound 30 year old defensive tactics instructor would have no problem fending off this attacker. The grandmother will have a better chance of defending her actions should she decide to use her firearm, than the 30 year old man will. Now, give the 30 year old man two small children to protect, and fending off an attacker becomes more difficult. Again, every situation is going to be different, even with the addition or subtraction of small details.

In conclusion, if you are going to be a responsible gun owner, especially one who practices regularly concealed carry, you’ve got to become intimately familiar with the law and how it applies to the use of deadly force. Educate yourself beyond just reading this article by speaking with a trusted attorney or your local law enforcement officer. This is serious stuff we are talking about, it’s not only your life, but the life of other human beings that you will be interacting with. Being responsible is about protecting not only your life, but all innocent human life.

In part 2 of this discussion, we will talk about the three factors that must be present for the use of force to be authorized;  Ability, opportunity, and jeopardy.

Don’t just survive thrive!


Carrying a firearm for personal protection brings with it an awesome responsibility. You have the power to change a person’s world forever, and even the power to take their life. It is you duty as a responsible gun owner to always obey the cardinal rules of firearms safety and to understand the laws where you live and travel with your gun. Do your due diligence become educated on the use of force continuum and become proficient with your firearm before you leave home.

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