Editor’s Note: The following is a post from Sammy Reese, a former Marine Corps Artillery Officer and retired police officer from California. He is a part-time range master for the police department he retired from as well as a life-long martial artist and combatives coach.
- Ep. 1 Should I Shoot? When Lethal Force Can Be Used
- Ep. 2 Should I Shoot? Why You Need a Lawyer Now
- Ep. 3 Should I Shoot? ‘What Gun Should I Get?’
- Ep. 4 Should I Shoot? Probable Cause
- Ep. 5 Should I Shoot? What If the Crook has a Gun Pointed at the Clerk?
- Ep. 6 Should I Shoot? What Gun Should I Get Part II
I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years teaching cops, military and private citizens how to stay alive in a sometimes not-so-nice world. In the beginning of my firearms instruction career, I was pretty much focused on the mechanics of shooting and the hardware. Over the years, I have found myself focusing just as heavily on the software involved in personal defense for both law enforcement and responsibly armed Americans. By “software,” I mean using the most powerful weapon we posses — the human brain. All the best gear combined with inaccurate knowledge of deadly force laws, poor mindset and poor training is, quite frankly, a disaster waiting to happen.
But accurate knowledge of deadly force laws, proper mindset and quality training–combined with the best gear available–could mean the difference between getting home safely or not getting home at all.
In the beginning, I want to be hands-on, as do all new gun owners. They want to learn to shoot, and “Can you help me?” is the question I hear most. I always answer with, “I sure can, but we need to cover a few other things as well.” I won’t get into everything I ask right now, but one of the first things I do ask is what they know about the laws when it comes to using deadly force in self-defense. (It applies to the use of, not the method; I will go much deeper into the actual application of deadly force in future columns.)
I spend a lot of time traveling around the U.S., and since I’m a retired police officer, I’m covered by HR218, which is nationwide concealed carry. It’s nice to be armed wherever I go, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to do my homework before I go so I know the laws of each state. For those with multi-state CCW, knowing the laws in each state is a must.
Since I reside in California, I’ll use the laws we have here to shed some light on the question of when I’m justified in using deadly force to defend myself.
California Penal Code Section 9.32. Deadly Force in Defense of Person.
This is the most important section for those who carry firearms for defensive purposes. The Penal Code here (and I would guess in most states) was written by lawyers and can, therefore, be very confusing. To most laypersons, Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter is easier to follow.
I prefer to keep things as simple as possible so the good guys here know when they can use deadly force; we use some very simplified verbiage that is the same as used when teaching law enforcement and for the most part, this applies across the board, even in extremely anti-gun states.
Deadly Force is authorized/legal:
- When in fear of imminent death or great bodily injury (GBI).
- When in fear of imminent death or GBI of another.
- To stop an armed fleeing felon who has committed murder or GBI and, if not stopped, is believed will continue to kill or inflict GBI upon others.
This last one was traditionally more directed at law enforcement officers, but with school attacks, church attacks and other rapid mass murders being a more immediate reality these days, it bears mention.
Another very important part of various states’ penal codes covers the use of deadly force in the home — more commonly known as the “Castle Doctrine.” Some states require a homeowner to retreat, even while in his or her home, before using deadly force. (I’m amazed that California hasn’t changed the law here to make us just hand over the keys and deed to the house if requested by a crook — but I digress.)
For example, California Penal Code Section 198.5 grants a justification for deadly force inside one’s residence. If someone forces his or her way into your home and you have a “reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury,” then you would be justified in using deadly force to defend yourself or another.
The Castle Doctrine leads into some very murky water also known as “Stand Your Ground” laws. Simply, such laws mean you don’t have to run or attempt to retreat before defending yourself. The media has spun this verbiage to make it seem like those who defend themselves have almost picked the fight by not attempting to run away. In most cases, the fight you aren’t in because you saw trouble coming and went the other way is the best fight to be in, but what if you can’t avoid it? Knowing what the law is in your state or the ones you travel in can save you a lot of money — or time being locked up.
When lethal force can be employed might seem like a simple question, but when you break it down to its component parts, it can be very confusing. Whenever you elect to carry a defensive arm, it is imperative that you know and follow your state and local laws, especially when concerning any requirement to retreat before employing deadly force. As this series progresses, I’ll be shedding light on the entirety of the subject and, hopefully, get people to think about an immensely weighty topic into which they may have put precious little thought.
For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.