Korwin: Self-Defense Doesn’t Match The Fantasy

It’s not just newcomers. Folks who have been armed all their lives and some of us outspoken types who are in it quite deep have this quiet (sometimes not so quiet) wish that self-defense could be, how should we put this … a little more robust?

A little more bumper-sticker logic and a little less legalese. Getting to Dirty Harry the vermin without squandering life savings on lawyers later. That would be more, shall we say, satisfying to a certain kind of woman or man. It would certainly seem more American than constantly watching bad guys skate while little people get trounced in courts.

Or would it? When you read about the trials and tribulations following a self-defense shooting, it makes your blood run cold. It’s not fair. If you’re really innocent and some vicious assailant just contracted lead poisoning instead of confiscating your precious life, that should be the end of it, right? You deserve a medal and a free pizza or something. Police have a name for when bad guys receive those hot rounds — the “good-riddance factor.” That’s true.

When it really is an open-and-shut, absolutely slam-dunk case of self-defense against a complete stranger who typically already has a violent history and you survive, you do get pizza and people do buy you drinks. (The handcuffed ride downtown could be optional.) But that kind of clarity in homicides isn’t common.

It’s unfair — and it can help if you’re a lone woman at home at night minding your own business and you never met the dead perps. Sometimes. It could depend on your state or your state of mind. Which also isn’t fair. Blind justice these days takes sides with “diverse” causes and groups unimaginable just a few years ago — down to how much courts decide you didn’t like the deceased.

“Hate crime” effloresced from thin air in a novel, migrating into our culture and courtrooms. Shooting someone criminally, for example, or doing it with animosity, causes identical damage and should yield similar punishment, though political correctness rejects such logic. But I digress.

The legal wrangling afterward (and dire warnings from us about ever using lethal force) are just natural outcomes of the nature of life itself. Wrangling over a person, now dead, is the biggest wrangle there is, bigger than who dented your car or who’s missing what amount of cash. Life, being irreplaceable, generates the great debate, the greatest crimes and the greatest consequences, forever, per incident. It’s only natural. Get more used to that than tactical reloads.

Maybe we’re too deeply steeped in the American sense of justice we get from TV and movies, especially old Westerns. Scenes and plot lines are carefully staged, emotions are played, morality runs its course, facts are established and every single person watching the picture — by the millions — arrives at the exact same conclusion. That never happens for real.

We imagine ourselves in similar pickles. Clear facts, an evil enemy who really is just that, perfect justification at the key moment, praise and a sense of victory on surviving, drinks on the house. It’s not even that way in the movies if you start watching carefully. That ain’t reality — and real cases are never even close. Start watching any screened gun activity for whether the shots were fired with justification or what crime the fired shots, or even the pointed gun, are attempting to stop.

Shots fired in public always represent a crime. Either shots are justifiable as defense against a crime or attempted crime, or the shots themselves are violations because there is no justification for them. Even (especially!) warning shots are criminal acts. You can’t legally use a gun as an audible warning device; the law has no tolerance for this. It puts innocent people at risk, and unless you have a sound legal reason to use deadly force, you can’t discharge a firearm out in public. In Westerns, they do it all the time without consequence — pure Hollywood nonsense.

SEE ALSO: Recreational Shooting: A Place to Start

Practically everyone you deal with after a self-defense incident has never met you before. You meet all these new people on whom your life depends, and most of what they have to go on is your story.

How good of a storyteller are you? How well can the best possible recitation of a story tell what actually happened when you discharged your sidearm? We’re not even talking about truth or innocence any longer, or what actually happened; we’re talking about defeating the system’s attempt (and apparent desire, it would often seem) to nail you to the wall.

We’ve gone over this before: It’s always impossible to establish “precisely what happened” because that doesn’t exist. It’s an existential problem: An observer to your north sees a 180-degree different picture than one to your south. Recall the cliché: two witnesses, four stories. Each time you (and they) recount the incident, it will change, and it will change again over time as human memory changes, all without leaving recordings.

An uninhibited manual decades ago recommended only carrying revolvers because they don’t eject evidence. In a perfect self-defense shooting (determined by you apparently), just leave, it said, because justifiable homicide isn’t criminal. Much blood, but no foul (it believed). If you’re never found, there won’t be any questions to answer (it posited).

Of course, leaving the scene that way could generate multiple problems and, depending on the jurisdiction, could be criminal. If you’re caught and the trial finds you weren’t justified, you fled a murder, and that’s very not good for your status as a reluctant participant.

You might wish this were the Wild West, but it isn’t. The best strategy remains Gunfighting Safety Rule No. 1: It’s always better to avoid a gunfight than to win one.

Discover how you can join nearly 300,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.

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About the author: Alan Korwin is an American writer, author and civil- and political-rights activist whose work serves the business, legal, news and firearms industries. In 1988, Korwin founded Bloomfield Press, which has grown into the largest publisher and distributor of gun-law books in the nation

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • SCOTT January 4, 2022, 9:28 am

    Even, if you survive without jail time, you could be sued for financial losses.
    Which, could ruin you, for decades.

  • Nick May 2, 2020, 11:25 am

    The comment about leaving the scene after you shoot someone does not take into account security cameras. They are everywhere. Even in a rural or remote area, at some point along a route, your car (if traveling) would get pic’d, etc. obviously much more risk in urban areas (just ask Jusse Smollet). But, yes, life as you know it is over if you have to use. Depending on where you live, just showing the gun to prevent a crime is enough to have the keys tossed! I live in an area where my scalp would most assured be at risk in terms of prosecution. Hell cops bust people in the city for carrying with too many rounds as it has its own 10 round mag rule, even though the state law allowing more capacity is supposed to supersede. Given that ones odds of being in a compromising situation where I live is far less than being struck by lightening it’s almost not worth it to carry. Home defense is primary.

  • Patrick McWilliams August 2, 2019, 2:12 pm

    Just perusing “Fire In Anger” by Robert Elman. Includes the story of a New York City detective who fired a couple of warning shots before engaging and wounding an armed fugitive. I believe that was standard practice in the early 1960’s.

    On the TV series “Blue Bloods”, the character Danny Reagan routinely shoots suspects with scarcely a review or reprimand. A lot of times he’s off to the corner pub before the clean up crew even reaches the scene of the crime.

    While cops do get a lot more leeway in riddling malefactors (or suspected malefactors) with bullets, that is not realistic.

    Remember, every career criminal, or just perennial screw-up has a mother, old-lady, grandma, etc. supplying a lawyer with money to keep her little darling out of jail, if only temporarily. When you decide not to share your wealth or let this dude get his jollies beating you up, you have removed a cash-cow from the system. That’s why it’s up to you to make up the loss to the judges, attorneys, cops, jailers, et al who have been drawing their sustenance from his predatory activities.

    The criminal is an integral and vital part of the system. You, who just want to be left alone, are not.

    • Kelly Lee August 4, 2019, 12:33 am

      “The criminal is an integral and vital part of the system. You, who just want to be left alone, are not.”

      Excellent point!

  • Dave Lemay August 2, 2019, 11:25 am

    I’ve taken Security classes, when I thought that perhaps I might want to work in that business, but actually, I never worked it. The point being, that I have a pinch more training than the average Joe where guns are concerned. Still, I am always at odds about concealed carry. First of all, living in Florida and dressing for the weather, makes it very difficult to conceal carry. Next, it seems that there are more places where I’m forbidden to carry, than places that I’m allowed. My feeling is that, if I’m allowed to carry, then there should be no sacred places of denial.

    On the other hand, even if confronted by a situation where genuine self defense is required, what will I need to face afterward? The law, as it now stands, will surely be out to prove me in the wrong. Worse yet, getting shot by some dumb cop who can’t differentiate what’s happening, is also a very real possibility.

    Finally, I have an above average self defense background, so I really have to ask myself if I may be better off relying strictly on that, as opposed to fears of the above becoming my problems. All in all, it’s pretty sad, as I can risk a bad guy shooting me, a cop shooting me cause he thinks I’m the bad guy, or perhaps I can look forward to courts, jails, or prison, just for trying to defend myself, or someone else.

    Freedom, what freedom?

    • Phxcop August 3, 2019, 3:37 pm


      Taking a human life is about the 2nd worse thing that can happen to you. The 1st would be having an assailant take your (or a loved one’s) life. Of course the aftermath won’t be a cake walk, but you will be alive. Bottom line, avoid a shooting as best you can.

      As for surviving the aftermath, in order for a defensive shooting to be legally justified three things must apply.

      1. The threat must be Imminent (happening now).
      2. The threat must be unavoidable.
      3. There must be a threat of death or serious to you ( or another innocent).

      If you are going to carry a gun for self-defense, get trained and know your rights/responsibilities under the laws in your jurisdiction.

  • Alan Robinson August 2, 2019, 9:10 am

    I’m constantly amazed that many who carry don’t see the human side of it,
    Especially as it WILL effect them.
    You have still taken a life, and though that life may have been threatening to you at the time, that life still had a life.
    Parents, children and so on. Pretty much JUST like you.
    Living with that is the BIG thing that many if not MOST don’t consider.
    “He was just a two bit thug”.
    Maybe, maybe not.
    “I’m alive, I have a wife and kids”
    Yep, and now YOU have to live with it, and still look your kids in the face.
    It’s SO MUCH more than carrying a gun.

  • Stan W August 2, 2019, 5:56 am

    Or just become a cop and let the taxpayers foot the bill. Easy-peasy, no personal monetary risk.

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