Book Review: The Law of Self Defense

A little while ago I went on a bit of a rant about what I termed “gunstore lawyers”, people who have absolutely no verifiable knowledge of the laws governing the use of force but insist on sharing their suppositions and outlandish conclusions anyway, often misleading people who need to have better information. In response to that rant I was contacted by Andrew F. Branca, an attorney and the author of The Law of Self Defense with the offer to review his book here on Gun Nuts.

If you have a gun for self defense are looking to learn about the laws that apply to self defense, this book would be a great start. Mr. Braca begins by walking you through the legal process likely to follow the use of force, explaining what each step in the byzantine maze of our court system means to you and your case, as well as how a good attorney will earn their fees at each step in the process.

Subsequent chapters are broken down into covering specific principles of self defense (innocence, imminence, reasonableness, defense of property, defense of others, etc) in pretty good depth and the major points that are made are supported with citations from actual case law from a number of different states. At the conclusion of each chapter covering a principle of self defense, Mr. Branca includes a table with each of the fifty states listed and then a citation of statute, case law, or even jury instructions from that state as it relates to the topic of the chapter. Even if you’re pretty sharp on self defense in your own state, having these tables handy as a reference for those occasions when you travel out of state can be quite useful.

The Law of Self Defense by Andrew Branca is an excellent beginners guide to the laws governing self defense and the use of force.
The Law of Self Defense by Andrew Branca is an excellent beginners guide to the laws governing self defense and the use of force.

A number of often used, but little understood, terms are explained in clear, concise language that anyone can understand. If you read the book you will learn what “duty to retreat” and “stand your ground” laws actually mean in an objective sense and how they would apply to your situation. When the law talks about a “reasonable person” standard, you’ll have a good understanding of what that standard actually is and how it can change depending on the situation.

In addition to the explanation of sometimes difficult legal concepts and the citation of actual case law, the book is peppered with plenty of sensible advice. Even though there is a chapter dedicated to avoidance, the idea of avoiding trouble altogether whenever possible comes up several times outside that chapter. The wisdom of avoiding problems you don’t need to have should seem pretty obvious, but unfortunately on the internet where people confuse scaring people at a Starbucks with being a “patriot” folks occasionally need to hear that having a concealed weapons permit does not mean it’s a splendid idea to insert yourself into problems that don’t absolutely require your attention. The chapter dedicated to the defense of others hammers this point home. In some states defense of another person is only valid if that person would have been completely justified in using the same force to defend himself/herself from the attack. In Virginia if I walk into the Wal-Mart parking lot and I see a guy swinging for the fences with a baseball bat on another dude’s head, I can clearly articulate mortal danger to the swingee and use whatever force is necessary to stop the attack. If it later turns out that the swingee started the fight and didn’t meet Virginia’s requirement for disengaging from mutual combat, I’m still pretty much in the clear because of my reasonable belief at the moment I took action.

In South Carolina (where I sometimes go for vacation or for training) I’d be in really hot water, because under their legal tradition if the prosecutor can argue that self defense wasn’t justified for the swingee, then any force I use against the guy swinging the bat isn’t justified either. So in that situation I could find myself facing criminal prosecution based on things the other guy did before I was even on the scene. Now I ask you: How many of the dudes running around hollering about “SHEEPDOG!!!” all the time do you think have any understanding of how “alter ego” legal requirements work, or what states have them?

The Law of Self Defense doesn’t go to into full detail on each and every state, but instead attempts to be an overview of general principles with useful information for each state cited in the aforementioned tables at the end of the chapters. Big danger zones like the “alter ego” states or “duty to retreat” states are covered clearly, as are exceptions to whatever principle is being discussed. In the chapter on defense of property, for example, many states have statutory language covering it. Virginia does not…and Mr. Branca notes this in the book. While your state’s laws may not be exhaustively covered or explained, there should be enough information within the book to lead you to the right questions for further research.

I contacted Mr. Branca and suggested that state-specific guides might be useful, and found out that he is taking pre-orders for specific legal guides for Virginia, Florida, Texas, Ohio, and Georgia at a discount.

If you’re like me and you’ve been getting questions on self defense law from friends, family, and acquaintances who are new to the topic of self defense, this book is a godsend. It’s a work you can hand anyone with high-school level reading comprehension that will answer many of their questions with solid information and good advice. They’ll also get an idea of the variability built into the legal system and why black and white answers are difficult to extract from people who have experience dealing with the courts. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy this book for somebody I cared about to get them started on having a better understanding of self defense law.

In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Branca sent me the copy I used to write this review for free…but by the time this post goes live on the website I will have bought another copy (or two) of the book for some friends, because I think it will be an excellent guide for them. If you’re looking for better understanding of the laws governing self defense and the use of force for yourself or for others you care about, The Law of Self Defense is a good start.

Links to The Law of Self Defense website have been peppered throughout this post, but I’ll put one here explicitly for reference:

The book is available on that website or through online retailers like Amazon.


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