With all the loose talk about the shooting in Florida, it is high time for folks to consider the deadly ramifications of carrying firearms. The average citizen rarely considers the severe legal consequences of pulling the trigger, relying instead on ‘self defense’ to protect them from legal prosecution. Prisons are full of people who still insist they killed in ‘self defense’ but their understanding of self-defense did not conform to the legal definition of it, and they ended up convicted of homicide and serving long sentences. Police officers and military personnel are trained to consider certain items before they drop the hammer, and so should anyone who carries a concealed weapon. DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A LAWYER, AND IN NO WAY IS THIS LEGAL ADVICE!
First of all, common sense and law do not necessarily agree with one another. You need to look up the legal definition of self defense in your state. You will find it more narrowly defined than you expected. Then look up definitions of homicide. There are several kinds – also called degrees – that have different definitions. Emergency is another term which means different things in different situations. These all affect your self defense plea, and whether it even can be applied to your situation.
Killing a person in ‘hot blood’ requires no intent. You can just lose your temper, or panic, and kill. Self defense is NOT necessarily a defense in this. You can’t start a fight, then kill someone because you are losing it (this lands quite a few folks in prison). It does not matter (except perhaps at sentencing time or in the movies) who ‘started’ it. If you participated in the argument or fight, rather than trying to avoid it, you forfeit the self-defense exception in most cases. (I believe this will be one of the concepts scrutinized very closely under the ‘stand your ground’ law, and certainly in the current Zimmerman case.)
You also cannot panic and kill just because you are scared. You will be expected to explain clearly just why you felt it was necessary to take a life, and ‘they threatened me’ will not stand up in court. What is a threat to you will not necessarily pass the test of what a ‘reasonable person’ would consider a threat in the eyes of a court. So you must be able to articulate (and prove to the courts’ satisfaction) that the threatening person not only had a big mouth or menacing appearance, but that they had intent to hurt you, and the means to do so, in the immediate moment you pulled the trigger. Witnesses can help or hurt you, depending on what they interpret from what they saw, so don’t expect them to be on your side.
You also must avoid ‘tombstone courage’. That is what makes a lone armed person take unnecessary chances. Cops and soldiers die from it, and so can you. The mayor of Milwaukee suffered from it and was lucky his assailant was not armed or it would have been worse. He saw a man beating a woman, and yelled at him to stop it because he was calling 9-1-1. The man promptly beat him up and broke his arm. He should have said nothing, taken cover (in his car where he could drive away) THEN called 9-1-1. The homeowner who comes downstairs to confront a burglar brandishing a gun like a magic wand and yelling “I HAVE A GUN” has it – if he is lucky the intruder will not shoot him, and get off claiming self defense. (It has happened.) Avoiding a confrontation is always the best, and confronting (if you HAVE to) from a position of cover does not imply you are a coward, just tactically smart.
Citizen’s arrest, even where it is legal, is extremely dangerous. Just because you intend to ‘arrest’ someone, does not mean he will recognize your ‘authority’ to do so and give up (cops find this out all the time). Are you ready to deal with a desperate person who claims self defense against false imprisonment when he tries to shoot you? Now you have to prove why the arrest was necessary, as well as justify your use of force, either of which, if you were mistaken, can put you in prison for decades on charges varying from false imprisonment to murder. Even if you are found not guilty, are you ready to be sued?
Lastly, remember that bullets go where the gun points, not where you want them to go.
If you don’t practice, you could easily end up shooting someone you didn’t mean to.
We might marvel over accounts of two neighbors who get into an argument and end up shooting aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, pets and neighbors but miss each other while standing less than 5 feet apart. What do you imagine the legal problems were when the shooting stopped? Look up the prison terms for negligent homicide. Learn to shoot accurately, and practice to maintain accuracy.
Consider, carefully ahead of time, just what you will do in a situation. Better yet, how to avoid a situation, is far, far better than jumping in with both feet, finding yourself in over your head, getting convicted of homicide, and landing in prison. Use your head, folks, and give it a think, before something happens that makes you go for that weapon. It is better by far to have it and never need it than to need it and not have it! Don’t be another reason for lawmakers to think they need to pass even more anti-gun laws to ‘protect us from ourselves’.