This is a question most of us have asked ourselves a dozen times, or more. Can I shoot an intruder? Do I have the ability, or the intestinal fortitude, to shoot someone in my home? Will I have what it takes to pull the trigger? Then the next question will be; If I pull the trigger, what will happen to me and my family? Let’s try to get some answers here.
Should you shoot the intruder?
Who among us hasn’t considered the likelihood that we may be called upon to use lethal force in self-defense or to protect innocent life? We pray it never happens but if we are prepared to shoot someone, however justified, then we must be equally prepared to deal with the consequences. I am constantly trying to improve the resources and skills I need to protect my family just like you. Yet a critical part of that preparation includes knowing what will happen and what to do after you shoot. Do you have a clue about the unbelievable complexities that will occur after using deadly force? Do you know what resources exist to help you deal with them? If not, then this article is your wake-up call. It is time to act – now – so that you will be ready in such a situation.
Picture This Scenario
Can you shoot the intruder?
You are sitting in your favorite easy chair watching a made-for-TV movie. It’s 10:15 pm and your coffee cup just ran empty (or maybe you prefer a glass of Jack). Suddenly there’s a banging on the front door. You’re startled and jump to your feet, reach for the .45 on your hip. and get ready to defend yourself and your family in the bedrooms. Then the door gives way and here comes the intruder with a knife in his hand. He sees you across the room and starts coming at you. You yell at him to stop, but he keeps coming. You shoot once, twice, hitting him in the chest He drops the knife, but keeps coming at you. You shoot again. This time, he’s hit in the neck and falls to the floor. You pick up the phone and call 911 and tell them you have been assaulted in your home and someone has been injured. You need the police and an ambulance. What do you do now?
Then the door gives way and here comes the intruder with a knife in his hand. He sees you across the room and starts coming at you. You shoot once, twice, hitting him in the chest He drops the knife, but keeps coming at you. You shoot again. This time, he’s hit in the neck and falls to the floor. You pick up the phone, call 911 and tell them you have been assaulted in your home and someone has been injured. You need the police and an ambulance. What do you do now?
You just shot an armed intruder in self-defense. You have also just stepped into the middle of a legal minefield. This instance is a clear case of self-defense. Will it be seen that way? The widely-held belief that you are innocent until proven guilty cannot be presumed. The new world you have just entered is far from ideal and the burden of proving your innocence will be on you. What happens next? You will be anxious to talk to the first responders who just arrived, probably police and paramedics. You will also have to overcome an overwhelming and immediate desire to begin justifying your actions to anyone who will listen to you. But for now, saying as little as possible will be the best decision of your life. However, you will only restrain yourself if you know why it is so critical. And you know this because it is one of the key parts of your previous training.
Enter “the system”
Can you defend yourself in court?
I am not a lawyer. I am not a law enforcement officer. But I do have some knowledge of how the legal system works in a case like this. Realize that what is written here is not to be construed as legal advice in any way. It is an exhortation to do your homework, make a plan, and assemble a small team – a lawyer and a few key friends – who agree to be available at a moment’s notice as you will be for them.
The daily world the lawyers and police inhabit is a legal procedural system that is designed to establish whether a crime was committed and to identify possible suspects as quickly as possible. These are the people who just showed up at your home in response to your frantic call. And there you stand with a gun and a body at your feet. The police are amazing at empathizing while getting the info from you that they know you are dying to unburden yourself with.
All of this will happen before your attorney arrives. Getting as much information from you as soon as possible is their goal and it is a certainty that what you say will be used against you if needed. Talking without counsel will almost invariably hurt you. Even if the shoot is clearly justified, they will still be trying to get all the details from you. They will tell you they are trying to help and need your cooperation in order to clear you.
But helping you is not their priority. That’s your lawyer’s job. What are they trying to do? They are gathering information to feed to the system. Realize that your innocence is just one of many outcomes available once the information is gathered and analyzed. The legal system is judged successful when cases are closed and convictions are handed down. That’s their true goal – it’s not to help you get cleared of wrongdoing. They don’t work to answer to you. They may be sympathetic but their job is to feed the system as it is currently designed. Justice may be the stated goal in broad terms but closing the case is the real objective. Getting you justice is your lawyer’s job. Are you getting the idea?
The Castle Doctrine
If an intruder comes into your house, do you have rights when it comes to protecting yourself?
The “Castle Doctrine” is a law in a large part of the country that gives homeowners the right to defend themselves if an intruder enters their home.
It is called the “Castle Law” because citizens can consider their home as a castle, and they have the right to protect it. Other laws, such as “Do Not Retreat”, commonly called “stand your ground”, help blanket potential victims from becoming suspects. In some jurisdictions, as in Nevada, the Castle Doctrine has been extended to also include your vehicle.
Major Randy Robertson with the Muscogee County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office said, “Citizens who find themselves in situations where they are threatened with severe injury or death can protect themselves with whatever level of force necessary.”
There are some stipulations to this law. If you are both outside on your property, you have every right to shoot, but if you are inside your home and the intruder is outside, you have to wait until the suspect crosses that threshold before you can defend yourself.
“If you are inside your house, secure, and someone comes into your front yard, I don’t think the law would extend outside of your home because you are under no imminent threat,” Robertson explained.
You also have to take into consideration just how threatening the individual is, meaning if a small female was coming towards a large man, he wouldn’t necessarily be covered by the law. But Robertson says if the roles are reversed, “Georgia law interprets the threat and some of those situations, especially a small female and the aggressor is a male, and he comes to the door armed, the citizen has to make an adjustment and an evaluation of the situation and handle it to what they think is best to protect themselves.”
Of course, depending on the situation, the District Attorney will have to determine if any charges will be filed against the homeowner.
Do Your Research and Plan Ahead
There is good news, though. Numerous good books and resources are available to help you. My goal is to raise your awareness of this issue to a level where you realize you need to act today. Without a plan, you will be at the mercy of events out of your control.
Start by thinking about how all of your past and present decisions and life choices will appear in the harsh light of the legal investigation you may face tomorrow. Which choices? All of them. You will be amazed about the dozens of things you do innocently every day that will be portrayed negatively by an unsympathetic legal system. How your friends and neighbors describe what you say and do will get put on display. Will your personality and the gun-related details of your life make you look like Joe Regular Citizen or a crazed vigilante in the hands of a skilled prosecutor? Don’t think it can happen? It’s all about the spin. Here are a few examples:
“You own an excessive number of guns and shoot frequently Mr. Smith…looks like you finally got your chance to use one.”
“Your honor, the bumper stickers and rifle rack on Mr. Smith’s truck demonstrate a strong mistrust of government and establish a vigilante mindset.”
“The range master at your gun club has testified that you always use representations of people as targets instead of a simple bullseye Mr. Smith. I think the jury would like to know why?”
“So you have testified that the man you shot was someone who was known to you and, in fact, owed you money. Can you explain why he was in your house that afternoon?”
These examples demonstrate how quickly any simple innocent act can be spun negatively and strung together to make you look like the criminal and portray the person who broke into your house and attacked you as the victim. You will want to assemble a small team who can mutually agree to be available should the need arise. Meanwhile, here are some things to get you started.
Key Areas to Consider
When is lethal force legally justified?
When can you shoot the intruder?
Case law justifying lethal force throughout the U.S. is generally consistent and of necessity is severely limited. The only time lethal force is justified is when someone reasonably believes that their life or the life of someone else is in immediate jeopardy. This is known as the “reasonable man theory”. The justification only exists while the threat is present (or perceived to be present). In the opening scenario, you pointed your gun at a knife-wielding attacker who was ignoring your commands to stop. But the moment he drops the knife or turns and retreats does he cease to be an immediate threat? If a reasonable man would conclude yes, then the justification for lethal force ceases as well. Is someone stealing your stuff? Nope. Breaking into your house? Not unless you truly believed (and can justify by the circumstances over and over later) that you believed your life was in danger.
“I did everything in my power!”
You will be asked what you did to address the threat prior to shooting. In escalating order these things include fleeing, a verbal command, physical restraint, use of pepper spray or some other object, and finally your firearm. If any of these things are available you will be asked why you did not or could not use them before resorting to lethal force.
“I was in fear for my life!”
There are many ways to express this but the reality is that you must genuinely believe that you were in fear for your life or that of another and saw no other way of escape before you will be cleared for using lethal force. Repeat it early and often. Expressions of remorse are normal and can be helpful or may be construed as guilt. That is why you should say very little and insist on speaking to your lawyer before making a statement or agreeing to be questioned.
“I had no choice but to shoot!”
If the attacker continues to advance and can’t be deterred any other way, the last resort may be to fire your weapon. Self-defense doctrine suggests you should keep firing until the threat ceases. Next, any secondary threats (such as an accomplice) should be dealt with. Once the threat ceases then contact the authorities as quickly as possible, usually via 911.
What will you do after the shooting is over?
The police will do their job.
You will now be in a highly agitated state and are capable (likely) to do and say things you will regret later. These are normal tendencies but with some forethought and planning, the damage to you can be minimized. If you do not call 911 right away it will go poorly for you. This is the conventional wisdom and it makes some sense. Calling quickly and rendering aid will support the fact that you are the victim here and did not want to kill anyone. Say as little as possible because everything you say from here on out will be used against you if it can be. The minimum suggested is something like. “This is John Smith of 123 Main Street. I was just attacked in my home and was afraid for my life. Please send an ambulance because someone has been shot.” It is also perceived that the first one to call 911 is the victim.
After calling 911
After you call 911, you lose control of events almost immediately. For starters, the phone you just used to call 911 on is usually ‘locked’ so you cannot make any other calls on it. Calling your lawyer or a support team member as soon as possible is advisable (on another phone). Say little to anyone except that you want to help and will make a statement after speaking to your lawyer. If your lawyer is not available, call a prearranged friend (you have a team, right?). Have them make all necessary calls for you (lawyer, family, pastor, etc.) as you may be unable to do so. They will be questioned later about why they got a call from you so quickly so their response needs to be solid as well.
Then the police will arrive and they won’t know who the good guy is. Their first priority is officer safety followed by bystander safety, securing the scene, and then determining what just happened. Make sure they know it’s you that called. Having a just-fired gun in your hand is not the best way to greet them. Make sure your weapon is secured and safe. It will be confiscated by law enforcement immediately and this is routine. Your hands may be bagged to preserve evidence of gunshot residue (GSR). Permission to search the rest of your house will be requested (or may just be done if the police feel it’s necessary). The stated explanation will be to secure everyone’s safety but equally important will be to examine what role you played in the events. Avoid this if you can. Hopefully, your other firearms are locked up and secure and not all in one place should the decision be made to confiscate them. Do not appear to be a threat in any way.
When they start pressing you with questions, it will get tricky. There is surprisingly little consensus on what or how much to say. The rule here is “Less is better”. I should point out that an officer involved in a shooting is presumed innocent pending an inquiry and is treated very differently than a citizen. He is given representation immediately and is not required to say anything until the rep or lawyer can meet with them and they have a chance to calm down. They are usually placed on paid administrative leave for several weeks. You and I will have to try to go to work in the morning. Yet if we try to take the same approach by wanting to confer with counsel before giving a statement, it is presumed we are trying to hide something. Doesn’t seem fair but it is true. The standards are very different. I believe by now you are getting the idea.
Some expert suggestions
Massad Ayoob, noted expert in the self-defense use of firearms suggests that people memorize these five steps and use them immediately and nothing more.
“This person attacked me.” – establishes that you are the victim.
“I will sign a complaint.” – confirms that you are the victim
Point out evidence that supports you before it disappears.
Point out witnesses before they disappear.“Officer, you will have my full cooperation after I have spoken with my attorney.”
“Officer, you will have my full cooperation after I have spoken with my attorney.”
His further suggestion is to request medical attention for yourself as you may be unknowingly injured, in shock, or something similar. It will also allow time for you to regroup your thoughts to avoid saying incriminating or conflicting things.
Alan Korwin is a widely-read 2nd Amendment rights author from Phoenix. Here are his new Safety Rules for Self Defense from his book After You Shoot.
If you shoot in self-defense you must then defend yourself against execution for murder
When you drop the hammer plan to cash in your life savings for your lawyer’s retainer. Avoid this unless your life depends on it.
Sometimes the innocent get decent treatment and sometimes they don’t
It’s always better to avoid a gunfight than to win one.
If innocent life doesn’t depend on it, don’t shoot. And if it does, don’t miss.
Expect unbelievable levels of scrutiny
Every decision you have made in your life up to this point will come into question at some point. You will have to justify the pertinent ones. Here are a few ways you will be challenged for starters:
1. Why did you shoot? Why did you feel threatened? 2. What did you do/say prior to shooting that could have prevented this? 3. Why that choice of pistol…shotgun…type of ammo? 4. How long or why did you wait to call 911? 5. Who else have you contacted? Why?
6. Did you know the victim? (Notice that now he is the victim and not you?)
Remember that the job of the police and prosecutor is to get you to tell them as much as they can get from you before your lawyer arrives. By the way, the time to establish a relationship with an attorney is before all this happens as part of your team. Don’t ask for an attorney – you must request to speak with YOUR attorney. Make sure you have one. Korwin’s After You Shoot has some great suggestions about how to put a team together.
So the question still begs an answer; Can you shoot the Intruder? After you’ve read this article, you may decide you don’t want to shoot the intruder. There have been some concealed weapons carriers choose not to carry anymore. They are willing to take their chances with the thugs on the street instead of the thugs in the legal system.
I truly hope you got some insight into how the system works. This article should give you a lot of food for thought, and you may choose not to carry in hopes that you will never need to defend yourself or your loved ones. I pray you never have to make that choice. Please leave your thoughts and comments with me below.