Lethal force is a last resort

In the last couple of weeks a few instances of…well, idiocy is the best description I can proffer at the moment…made semi-national news. They are excellent examples of what The Tactical Professor would call “Negative Outcomes” that result from people who made the decision to keep a firearm handy but apparently did not bother to make the same effort to educate themselves about the law. Or, one could argue, apply any common sense.

Firearms are lethal force. The law in every state and territory in our Union regards the firearm as a deadly instrument. Because when used properly or improperly, it can kill people.

As a society we generally regard the act of justifiably killing another human being to be a last resort. An extreme action warrantable in answer to only the most serious of criminal threats.

Multiple armed men forcibly entering your home is one of those serious criminal threats. Had the residents of that house opened fire on the armed men busting through the front door and killed every one, it would have been a justifiable homicide in every jurisdiction in the United States. The threat to life is clear, as the unfortunate outcome of this criminal assault makes plain.

One cannot say the same for shoplifting. In Michigan a woman in a Home Depot parking lot saw a man running with a cart full of stolen power tools. As he got into a getaway car, she opened fire on the car.

According to officials, Duva-Rodriguez wasn’t trying to hit or kill the shoplifters, but rather to disable their car. But that didn’t stop prosecutors from filing the misdemeanor charge against her. The Auburn Hills Police Department suggested Duva-Rodriguez could face 90 days in jail or a fine.

If you do not intend to kill someone, a firearm is the wrong tool to have in your hand.

Guns are lethal force. Period. Police do sometimes shoot at vehicles but only in the most extreme of circumstances where there is a continuing threat to the community…not when the car has unarmed shoplifters in it. Even when the police shoot to disable the car of a fleeing armed felon it is a use of lethal force.

To justifiably use your firearm you have to be faced with a circumstance where a criminal assault is placing someone (You, for instance) at significant risk of death or grievous injury. (Broken bones, paralysis, maimed for life, etc) Two dudes stealing a grand worth of Home Depot’s power tools does not place anyone in immediate danger of death or grievous injury…therefore your handgun is absolutely the wrong tool for that job. The smart phone in your pocket or purse is a much better tool for that situation.

Then, of course, we have the incident in Waco where a woman fired a shot at a fleeing purse snatcher. Here again we see no immediate danger to life or limb, but she’s got her gun out and when the bad guy takes off running with no evidence of armed aggression toward anyone she pops a shot at the guy.

You need not be a Harvard Law alumni to understand this. Common sense (which may not actually be all that common, when you think about it…) would dictate that since guns kill, it is only justifiable to use them when we are prepared to actually end another human being on the spot.

Guns are not magic. They are a relatively simple machine that launches a projectile. Pulling one out in inappropriate circumstances will not make the situation better for you. Quite the opposite, I’m afraid.

Feeling the sensation of fear is not enough to justify pulling your gun or actually firing it. You cannot be unsure about the threat when you pull the trigger. It cannot be a situation of “I’m afraid of what this guy might do!” The time to pull the trigger is when you know that you or some other innocent person is likely to die or be seriously injured if you don’t. It’s a last resort, when other reasonable options are no longer available to you.

15 thoughts on “Lethal force is a last resort”

  1. You are of course correct, but you’re wasting your time. When I commented on another blog that you can’t shoot to protect property, only life, people twisted themselves into sophistic pretzels to justify it. Generally, their argument was, “I had to work to make enough money to buy that property, so that property is a portion of my life; therefore stealing it is taking a part of my life, and I can shoot someone to protect it.”
    Those are the eloquent ones. Mostly they just called me names.(My favorite was “libtard”.)
    And someone always brings up Texas. Under Texas law (I looked it up), it is lawful to use deadly force to stop a property crime under certain extremely circumscribed conditions, if it occurs in the nighttime. You would be amazed at how many (self-claimed) Texans told me they could shoot trespassers on sight at any time, and I was an idiot for living in a state so benighted I couldn’t do that.
    I do believe that the readers of this blog are more knowledgeable about the law than the readers of the other one (where I no longer bother. If they want to put themselves in prison, it’s not my problem). Even so, I wish you luck.

    1. My understanding is that if they’re actually in/attempting to gain entry into my house, I just don’ thave to wait for them to start hitting me to shoot them. Which is great.

      That doesn’t mean I can shoot someone that’s walking on my front lawn and for gods sakes, the people that act like that would be socially desirable scare the tar out of me

      1. I think a lot of people simply have no clue of what it is like to actually use lethal force. They do not grasp the realities. It’s not like the movies where the good guy can waste dozens of machine-gun wielding baddies and ride off into the sunset with a smile on his face and not have to face so much as a police report.

        As the old saying goes, ignorance is bliss…at least until you actually try that nonsense in real life. Then it gets ugly real fast.

        1. I think that the concept that you won’t be able to shoot and just go on with your life is starting to catch on- one minor benefit of the #BLM and Treyvon Martin situation.
          A CCW does not a Junior G-Man make.

    2. I think the difference is somebody running away with property versus trying to take it from you. You do not have to allow somebody to threaten you and take your property. You can stand in front of your property, and yes try to prevent somebody to take it. If they threaten you, and they have the means to execute that threat, you can use deadly force.

      So while technically it is still defending your life, it is also defending your property.

    3. I think the overly simple statement of “you can’t shoot to protect property” probably gets some people overly worked up. But I think if given specific scenarios, most gun owners can exercise common sense and come up with the right answer. For example; if I come home to find someone stealing the gas grill off my Patio, am I going to open fire? Of course not. But if someone walks up to my car door with a weapon demanding that I give them my car, and I can’t simply drive away, I’m not going to just hope that they’re happy with my car and will leave me in peace. That may be a judgement call you have to make on the spot given the circumstances, but I think you’re more than justified in assuming you’re life may be in danger. You’re not simply protecting your car/property.

      1. You’re right, because you’re talking about two different crimes.
        Grabbing your gas grill off your porch is theft. Demanding your car at gunpoint is robbery (taking by force or fear).
        Theft is a property crime; robbery is a violent crime (some states call it a crime against a person). (Generally speaking, if an offender takes property at the point of a weapon, he is committing a robbery, not a theft.) A person threatened with robbery can, in most cases, use deadly forc

  2. Interestingly, while self-defense laws themselves are generally pretty similar across the country (although the differences DO matter, and of course there’s always the DTR vs. SYG dichotomy), there is tremendous variability in defense of property laws. Very broadly speaking, these fall into one of three buckets:

    (1) Non-deadly force ONLY in defense of property, PERIOD, no exceptions, no special circumstances, no special categories of property. Massachusetts is an example of such a restrictive defense of property framework. One could argue that there is strength in its simplicity.

    (2) Non-deadly force ONLY in defense of personal/tangible property, but a wide variety of exceptions allowing for deadly force in “defense of special classes of property,” such as homes, places of business, occupied vehicles. It’s important to keep in mind that what’s REALLY happening here is that the special class of property is serving as a surrogate for human life. It’s not literally the physical structure of the home that’s being protected, for example, it’s rather that greater discretion is being given to use deadly force than under “normal” self-defense because of the people being sheltered by that property, and the role that property plays in sheltering/protecting people. This is by far the most common approach to defense of property across the country, but there exists HUGE state-to-state variance in the specific circumstances in which justification is provided. Either know the law really, really well or default to (1), above.

    (3) Texas 9.42, which allows for the use of deadly force in defense of property under certain specific conditions. In fact, most of those conditions that qualify are actually crimes against people, either explicitly (e.g., robbery) or traditionally (e.g., burglary), so these are really just self-defense scenarios. The only “pure” property crimes enumerated are criminal mischief and theft, and for both of those they must be occurring at night-time, as well as meet all the other conditions of the statute (of which there are several, any one of which could kick someone out of the statute’s protection).

    It’s worth keeping in mind that should one use deadly force in defense of life, and your claim of self-defense fails and you’re sentenced to 20 years, at least you did it to save a human life. If you use deadly force in defense of you new backyard grill, and your claim of defense of property fails and you’re sentenced to 20 years, you’ve flushed your life away over a grill. I don’t tell people what to do, I just try to inform them about the possible legal consequences of their choices. That said, 20 years over a grill doesn’t strike me as a great deal.

    Merry Christmas! 🙂

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

    1. I think the summary is that you need to know your laws, the general attitude of the prosecutors in your area, and your own moral limits.

      I added the last part because just because using lethal force is legal it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have an easy time living with yourself if you use it in a situation that you aren’t morally ready to do so.

  3. Oops, item (3) in my post above should begin:

    “(3) Texas 9.42, which allows for the use of deadly force in defense of PERSONAL/TANGIBLE property …. ”

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

  4. The headline reminds me of maxim six, from the Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries, which states “If violence wasn’t your last resort, you failed to resort to enough of it.


  5. To put this issue in perspective for my students I tell them that IF your action is justified under the law its still going to require expensive legal representation that is likely to cost:
    – Simple display of a firearm – $5,000
    – Display with a threat – $20,000
    – Discharge with no injury – $50,000
    – Discharge with an injury – $100,000+

    However, if any of those actions are possibly not justified under the law, it will likely take everything you have.

    So before you act consider if the property they take is truly worth the cost and aggravation.

    And this is under Florida law which is generally firearms friendly.

  6. Section 9.42…regarding use of deadly force in protection of property;

    Sec. 9.42. DEADLY FORCE TO PROTECT PROPERTY. A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property:

    (1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41; and

    (2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:

    (A) to prevent the other’s imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime; or

    (B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and

    (3) he reasonably believes that:

    (A) the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means; or

    (B) the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the land or property would expose the actor or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.


    #1. Robbery.
    #2. Fleeing after immediately committing robbery
    #3. section 3B applies.

    Not so quick to rush into judge this woman as an idiot.

    1. Dude, seriously? She is an idiot. Pulling a gun on a guy and interjecting youself in a situation that she had no business in and then using deadly force when not required = moron. It wasnt her property, but sure, you could use the “in defense of a third person” arguement, but that’s pretty weak in this case. The actor posed no lethal threat to her or anyone else in that video from what can be seen or released. And the property couldn’t be recovered through any other means? Are you kidding? Yeah, having your wallet/purse stolen sucks, been there. But to say the ass pain its going to cause canceling cards and such warrants deadly force at the point in the video that she jumps in? Bullshit.

    2. With regard to the idiot, yes idiot in Waco, exactly when in that video does Section 9.42(2) come into play? When did the woman with the gun believe that deadly force was immediately necessary? If it wasn’t necessary while the suspect was being wrestled with in front of her, how did it become immediately necessary as he was running away?

      Never mind Section 9.42(3) – recovered by other means.

      Would you be willing to make the same argument at your arraignment?

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