I received concealed weapons permit training and firearms training in a couple of different states, with several different certified shooting instructors. In most states, in order to have legal justification to draw your firearm and use deadly force, you must believe that you are in imminent danger of great bodily injury or death. That is one of the simplest ways to phrase it.
In reality, if you were to shoot someone with your firearm because YOU believed that you were in imminent danger of great bodily injury or death, when the Police arrive, THE POLICE are going to decide if THEY believe that you were in imminent danger of great bodily injury or death. And, the Police are probably not going to agree with you.
The Police who arrive at the scene of the shooting to investigate, they are going to ask you why did you shoot this person. What made you believe that this person was attacking you? What did this person say to you? Did this person have a weapon? Did you see a knife or a gun? Did this person hit you or grab hold of you?
The Police may ask you, why didn’t you try to leave? Why didn’t you walk away? Why didn’t you run away. Why didn’t you push this person away?
I will give a simple scenario. Suppose that you are the owner of a jewelry store, a small retail shop. Your business is locked in the morning, with a “Closed” sign in the window, and the lights are all off. You arrive at the front door at 7:00 a.m. to unlock your business. You unlock the front door and step inside, someone who you do not know and did not see out on the sidewalk, runs from a concealed location and jumps in the front door before you can close it. This person grabs the front door and locks it. Only five feet separate you from this person.
If it was me who owned and operated this jewelry store, being 52 years old, sometimes not in very good health, and this person ran from a hiding spot and jumped inside behind me before I could shut the door, then grabbed the door and locked it, I would probably shoot them. What would you do?
The reason why I would shoot them, is because it looks to me like this person is going to rob me, and I don’t know if they have a knife or gun and if they are going to kill me. I also have no idea if I could prevail against them in hand-to-hand fighting. Since this person is only five feet away, I figure I have only one chance to save myself, and I must shoot now without hesitating.
Concealed weapons permit instructors advise their students to telephone the Police and say, “I would like to report an attempted robbery, the robber has been shot, I am the business owner.” This way, you are conveying on the audio recorded 911 call that you shot who you believed to be a robber, and you are notifying the Police that the person standing at this location holding a firearm is the store owner, not the suspected robber.
When the Police arrive, you are supposed to say something like, “I was unlocking my store, when I entered my business and tried to lock the door behind me, this person ran from a hiding spot, pushed his way in, locked the door, and came at me. I was in fear for my life and I shot him. I don’t want to answer any more questions until I have spoken to an attorney and have an attorney present.”
Most concealed weapons permit instructors and firearm instructors will advise students adamantly to not say anything else to the Police, as it will most likely harm you greatly. For instance, after the fact, after the robber has been shot, it may be apparent that the robber did not possess a weapon, knife, or gun at the time, but you had no way to know that the robber did not posses a weapon. So if a Police Officer asked you, did you see a weapon, knife, or gun, and you answer “No”, the Police Officer is going to believe in HIS mind, that the suspected robber was unarmed.
After the fact, the Police Officer may continue asking questions to determine in HIS mind, whether the use of deadly force was justified. The Police Officer may ask, is there a silent alarm in this jewelry store? Why didn’t you just back away and push the silent alarm button?
Are you beginning to see the difference between using deadly force because YOU believed that your life was in imminent danger, and the Police deciding if THEY believe that your life was in imminent danger? In this jewelry store scenario, if the suspected robber did not have a weapon, the Police are probably going to arrest you and take you to jail for assault with a deadly weapon or manslaughter.
When the Prosecutor is evaluating whether to bring charges against the jewelry store owner in this case, the Prosecutor may consider, “What would a reasonable person do under these same circumstances?”, because that is one of the ways that the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney will present and argue this case.
But at a trial, three specific legal elements will be considered and examined to determine if the use of deadly force was justified, “Ability”, “Opportunity”, and “Jeopardy”, as explained at time mark 38:46 in Massad Ayoob’s video below:
In the scenario that I described above where I am the 52 year old jewelry store owner who shot the attacker, at my trial for manslaughter, examining if my attacker had the “Ability” to cause me great bodily injury or death, without a weapon, the answer is maybe, if my physical health and physical ability were much weaker than this attacker.
“Opportunity”? Yes, my attacker inside the jewelry store was only five feet away from me, he had the opportunity to hit, kick, and choke me.
“Jeopardy”? Was my attacker behaving in a such a manner as to indicate that he was going to inflict great bodily injury or death? The answer is Yes, No, Maybe. He ran inside the jewelry store from a hidden location before I could close the door behind me, and he grabbed the door and locked it. What does this indicate? It indicates whatever a trial jury can be persuaded to believe.
In summary, if I as the jewelry store owner had shot this attacker who I believed was there to rob me, because I believed that I was in imminent danger of great bodily injury or death, the Police who arrive at the scene to investigate might not agree with me, and place me under arrest. If a Prosecutor brought criminal charges against me, at a trial, in order for this shooting to be justified, the three criteria of “Ability”, “Opportunity”, and “Jeopardy” must be met. I would have a difficult time persuading a jury that the attacker who possessed no weapon, had so much more physical strength and ability, that there was “disparity of force”.
Overall, if you watch the entire 1 hour 46 minute video of Massad Ayoob, you will see that there is much more responsibility and accountability required when carrying a firearm. You will very likely face arrest, time in jail, complicated and drawn out legal process, tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs, incarceration in prison, and civil lawsuits if you shoot someone in self defense.