When to Lawfully Kill to Protect Property

Editor’s Note: I’m not an attorney and don’t pretend to be one. All of what is said is based on my unlearned reading of New York State law. Take what is written with a grain of salt. In other words, this is NOT legal advice so don’t treat it as such. If you have legal questions contact an attorney!

Deadly Force to Save Your Dog?

A teenage hooligan grabs your miniature poodle from your lawn, runs to the end of your street, and begins to savagely kick it. As an armed citizen in pursuit of the scumbag, can you use deadly force to stop this street punk from killing your pup?

No! Your dog is a piece of property. The law doesn’t allow one to use deadly force to protect property. No piece of property is worth a human life, as we often hear. You can use “reasonable” physical force against the teen to get him to stop torturing your poodle — shove him, kick him, maybe even strike him in the head — but if you draw your gun and shoot, you’re going to lose in court. Especially if the miscreant is unarmed and smaller and weaker than you are.

You can easily imagine how a savvy prosecutor would frame the case. Tony, the troubled teen, had a difficult home life. He was abused by his uncle. He was acting out for “attention.” And though his actions are inexcusable, Tony is a 15-year-old minor who weighs 110 pounds soaking wet with rocks in his pockets. Tony was unarmed. He never presented a threat of serious bodily injury or death to you (a grown man).  Your use of deadly force was, literally, overkill. You murdered young Tony before he had a chance to turn his life around.

You’ll argue all day long that Tony viciously killed your dog but it won’t matter. Property is property. No property is worth a human life. Right? Or, is there an instance where you can use deadly force to protect property?

Deadly Force To Stop Arson?

KKK members burning a cross in Denver in 1921. (Photo: Wikipedia/Library of Congress)

Let’s check out another scenario. Klansmen with torches in hand are marching toward a historic black church that sits directly across the street from your home. When they gather there, they start chanting or doing whatever it is KKK members do when they congregate (bugger one another?).

Concerned for your safety and the safety of your family, you grab your AR-15 and several 30-round mags… Wait! Since this is New York we’re talking about, you grab your registered black rifle and several 10-round mags. Given that there are about a dozen of them, you want to make sure that if you have to engage them you have enough to get you through the fight. Damn those “low capacity” mags!  Anyways, you instruct your wife to call 911. Now, you’re not going to leave your home. But at the same time, you notice that they’re sparking up Molotov cocktails. Sure enough, they’re getting ready to set the church on fire.

Any reasonable person in your situation would acknowledge what’s happening. Your wife, who is still on the phone with the 911 operator, is narrating the details. She tells the dispatcher that they’re going to light up the church like a Christmas tree. It’s nighttime. Presumably, the church is empty. Given that it’s just a piece of property, can you use deadly force to prevent those Klansman from burning down that place of worship?

What the Law Says

The answer, at least according to New York State law, is yes, you can.  You can use deadly force to stop arson.  Read it (emphasis added):

NY Penal L § 35.20 (2012)

§ 35.20 Justification; use of physical force in defense of premises and in defense of a person in the course of burglary.

1. Any person may use physical force upon another person when he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent or terminate what he or she reasonably believes to be the commission or attempted commission by such other person of a crime involving damage to premises. Such person may use any degree of physical force, other than deadly physical force, which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary for such purpose, and may use deadly physical force if he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent or terminate the commission or attempted commission of arson.

You may use deadly force to prevent arson. Now, if those Klansmen were taking sledgehammers to the church, it might be a different story. Deadly force would most likely be off the table unless you were a parishioner of the church on the premises or you were a law enforcement officer or a security guard charged with protecting it.  To understand why those exceptions apply, read section 2 and 3 of the code.

The question is, of course, why is arson different than other kinds of property damage?  Why can I use deadly force to stop a Klansman from burning down an unoccupied church and not use it to save man’s best friend?

Because with arson (a) you never truly know if a building is really vacant and (b) at the end of the day you’re not just protecting the property, you’re protecting people who may be residing in nearby dwellings that could also catch fire as well as the first responders who have to combat the conflagration.

What New York law recognizes is that killing arsonists is not just about protecting property, it’s about (potentially) saving lives.

Conclusion

The general rule of thumb is that you can’t kill someone over property.  Arson is an exception.  But only because setting a fire to a building may put people’s lives in danger.  Does that make sense?

Another way to look at it. Name the piece of property that’s worth the life of your child.  I’ll wait.  Exactly, there isn’t one.  That’s what the prosecutor will say to the jury.  Don’t find yourself being judged by 12 for killing someone over a TV set or a convertible or even Lassie.

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

{ 38 comments… add one }
  • JD Shellnut January 15, 2021, 12:03 am

    Most of y’all are being silly and y’uns know it! I maintain quite a healthy little personal arsenal here at my house, like most intelligent American citizens should as an insurance policy against political despotism, among other things. While I’ll admit that talking about shooting another human being makes for tough talk around the water cooler or break table when at work, if you have been a law abiding citizen your entire life then I guarantee when it’s YOUR turn to end another mans life, it won’t be nearly as fun. I’m not speaking of waking up to your wife or children screaming out for help and walking up on an unspeakable act being perpetrated on a loved one, because if there is ANYONE who could stay their hand in that situation…well let’s just say they ain’t gonna be on this damned website anyways! You kill that bastard out of principle. But when you come upon a fellow human being who looks you in the eyes and you’ve got them lined up in your sights, you won’t want to do it…and regardless…let’s say you DO go ahead and smoke them…it ain’t like the movies man I promise. What ya gonna do while you listen to them plead for help as they lay dying, asking for water or for their mothers…then what? You can say what you want, (hell this is the internet so it’s to be expected) but you will ALWAYS see that persons face when you try to go to sleep or hear their cries in your dreams at night….sure, they were criminals and they had it coming, right? Sure, I’ll give you that. Don’t matter after the adrenaline is gone, you’ll carry that burden for the rest of your life…why? Because you’re a law abiding citizen and have made a life out of keeping out of trouble and doing your best to avoid such troublesome people and situations. I love my dog and I love my parrot just as much, and I also consider them family…but where does one draw the line when it comes to taking an human (made in the image of God) life? Can you imagine living each day knowing that I shot and killed your loved one because I caught him shaking salt on the tail of my bird? Even if walked up on him fucking her, I would pray that I would be lynched by my fellow citizens rather than live with myself knowing I traded a human life for a parrot…and a parrot is a shitload more expensive than most dogs and lives about 4 times as long ( and can say a helluva lot more words!) so how would one be able to say that it is less of a family member than my dog? Just some food for thought.

  • Jim December 14, 2020, 8:21 am

    General analysis is correct. If you can avoid the use of deadly force, do.

    To be a bit more specific, in NY, you may also use deadly physical force to prevent a burglary or robbery (in addition to Arson, Kidnapping, Rape or a crime of sexual violence). In each case, however, the issues of necessity and reasonableness will apply.

  • J September 10, 2020, 8:10 pm

    If someone is torturing or harming the family dog… there is NO difference you die.

  • jim August 31, 2020, 11:53 am

    You may also use deadly force to stop a burglary in NY.

  • PAUL January 3, 2020, 7:22 am

    You guys-i have your solution. Move to Louisiana. You can openly carry all you want. Of course, there are businesses and other places (Wal Mart) who don’t want them inside. Dumb-asses. You can shoot someone outside your window trying to break in. You can shoot someone trying to break in your car. We have “shoot the burglar law”, and “shoot the carjacker law”.
    We have gun ranges and instructors everywhere.
    Come on down, bring your families and job skills. We’re mostly very friendly here, some of the nicest people on the planet. Good schools too. It’s a little hot and sticky in the summer, but you get used to it.
    Just sayin’.

  • Terence April 21, 2018, 1:03 pm

    Well I quite frankly will empty at least 1-30 round 7.62x.39 caliber magazine into the douchebag that does that to 1 of any of my 4 dogs. I don’t give a fuck about NY or CA or any piece of shit legislation or any lawmaker or civil code when it comes to someone hurting family members. About a few years ago some police were at my house and the oldest dog came outside barking. 1 of the officers drew his weapon and was pointing it at him. He not even looking at him had his back to the officer and was only barking. I own Belgian Malinois and the PD uses them everywhere. I said to the officer “what the fuck are you doing?He holstered his weapon and I said” there are 3 of you guys here with guns and if I have to pull mine out it would not be fair at all.” They looked at me strangely and were not sure what I meant. Upon seeing him aim at my dog on my property all I thought of was if he shoots I will get my AK off the wall with 30 round mag & would have smoked them all. I know I would have received life of the death penalty for it but I do not give a shit. A dog is a family member and if you kill one or hurt one intentionally you will deal with the business end of my Kalashnikov.

    • Joe April 21, 2018, 10:18 pm

      Well said brother I agree!

    • Keith May 2, 2018, 6:20 am

      I like rifles that fire the .300 AAC Blackout, 7.62 x 39, 7.62 x 51 and 6.5 x 39 Grendel. Military should have never taken the 5.56 x 45 round for a primary rifle cartridge.

  • Ed April 21, 2018, 12:25 pm

    Since this is New York, where all they want is total gun control, to smash every SKS AR, and AK they find, get rid of the Magazines that are with about 1/2 the firearms I own; I think they ought “not” to be able to shoot anyone. And register all law abiding citizens and almost make it impossible for them to own a firearm.

    Then maybe after time, they’d all be killed off , robbed, raped, or attacked so much, they’d finally get some balls and vote all those liberal politicians out of office that are making their lives dangerous and their streets unsafe. (Where criminals and thugs can take over cause they have the guns anyway).

    Maybe the’d finally figure it out. But I still kind of doubt it. After all they still live up there in the land of ignorance.

  • Glenn61 April 20, 2018, 7:19 pm

    It’s why I have my property fenced off and signs posted. In my house, I’m king, all others stay away.

  • James Shumate April 20, 2018, 5:40 pm

    In the state of Texas after “Legal daylight hours” one may use deadly force to prevent theft or destruction of private property. During daylight hours the proper use of force must be used. IE: Verbal, hands on, deadly force…

  • Ken April 20, 2018, 5:23 pm

    In Texas, you may use deadly force to stop a thief who is running away with your property. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want thousands of New Yorkers or millions more Californians moving here, but our laws are much more reasonable. And we may have three 30 round mags taped together on our AR’s!!!

  • Colonialgirl April 20, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Sounds like a spew of the usual moronic laws one would find in a left winger anti-gun state full of morons like new york.

  • Mike Watkins April 20, 2018, 1:42 pm

    Shoot the moron in the head. Then in court you can argue that you were only attempting to wound him by shooting him where he had no vital organs.

    I’m not a lawyer, don’t take my advice!

  • C. Painter April 20, 2018, 12:32 pm

    When it comes to deadly force I agree with the guy from Texas. I had a kid the middle of the night come strolling through my yard. Now I didn’t get to him till he was down the road from my house but I have signs and fences so this kid once I caught up to him I was sure to make sure he heard me to never do this again or he wasn’t gonna make it off next time. Whether right or wrong you don’t go on another mans property period unless your allowed too. You have every right to assume ill intent just by the time of the day. And if you do use deadly force best just not have any one with the opposite side of the story to tell. We have to many law systems working sounds to be the big problem overall.

    • jim April 20, 2018, 1:12 pm

      You are so wrong about this, it actually made me laugh. RE-READ THE FRICKEN’ ARTICLE, AND TRY TO LEARN FROM IT! Otherwise, Texas or not, you might lose everything you ever owned, and spend the rest of your life in prison. DON’T BE IGNORANT OF THE LAW!!

      “You have every right to assume ill intent just by the time of the day”…are you really that stupid?

    • James Shumate April 20, 2018, 5:44 pm

      Seems legit until you’re lost in the woods looking for that deer your buddy gut shot and you end up walking out through someone property just to get to a road so you can call someone to come pick you up. You can’t just shoot people…

  • Reasonable Person April 20, 2018, 12:25 pm

    I think it’s pretty easy – If my life, or my family’s life is in imminent danger, I’m using deadly force. That’s the ONLY reason for me personally. I don’t care what state I live in, it doesn’t matter. If I go to jail to save a family member, then that’s just the way it is. To save my car radio, I don’t think so. To save my dog, I don’t think so (I do love my dog, but I’m not going to prison for him!) I also assume that if you enter my home uninvited, you are there with the intention to do grave harm to me or my family, so that counts for me too. I’m no attorney, but I think if you follow are using deadly force to save a life, you are justified. Period.

  • MB April 20, 2018, 10:09 am

    You are not in a free state I guess. Here in Texas you would be wrong, you can use deadly force to protect your property, AND the property of others. Texas is a law and order state.

    • NavyVet1959 April 20, 2018, 2:39 pm

      Exactly! Just look up the appropriate statutes. Hell, we can even use deadly force for “criminal mischief at night”. Which means that the only safe time for those gang-banger “taggers” to use spray paint on signs and buildings is during the day. For the most part, Texans are a live-and-let live type of people. Don’t come on our property, don’t do something that affects us or our family, and we’ll leave you alone. If you can’t manage those simple things, well, we have 55g drums and bags of lime to control the smell of decomp, just in case…

  • JT April 20, 2018, 9:13 am

    Don\’t take advice about use of deadly force in self-defense from a non-lawyer. If you wake up one night and go out to your kitchen and find some stranger in your home, sitting at the kitchen table eating a bowl of cereal and that person is unarmed and not threatening in any way, I assure you that you will go to prison if you shoot them. Deadly force may not be used to defend one\’s property alone, with no accompanying threat to persons. There is no jurisdiction in America that allows that. A simple internet search pulled up a number of sites where lawyers from New Mexico advised people that they cannot use deadly force to protect property alone. A recent case involved a home owner whose car was being broken into. He attempted to intervene and shot one of the burglars. The key to his successful defense was that one of the burglars pulled a firearm during the homeowners attempt to intervene, which allowed the homeowner to use deadly force to defend HIMSELF, not his car. There must be some sort of threat to human lives located in or on that property. And a Grand Jury, and later if things don\’t go well there, a jury, will determine if your actions were reasonable. So if you want to shoot someone to protect your dog go ahead if you think a jury will find your behavior reasonable. Then be prepared for a life altering multi-decade experience that many have described as a fate worse than death.

    • Mark Smith April 20, 2018, 1:10 pm

      In Utah, you can legally shoot the person eating a bowl of cereal at your kitchen table. The reason being is that, by statute, someone in your home without your permission is considered a deadly threat. Leaned this in the Utah concealed carry class for my non-resident permit. Having said that, Utah is the only state I know of that has a law like this and from a moral point of view, I would have a difficult time shooting someone unless I felt myself in jeopardy.

      Take you own advice. “Don’t take advice about use of deadly force in self-defense from a non-lawyer.” And that should include me as well 🙂

    • James Shumate April 20, 2018, 5:46 pm

      “I googled it and it says you cant.” LOL Yes, you can use deadly force to prevent theft or destruction of private property in some states. Just not in commie states.

  • Clint W. April 20, 2018, 8:57 am

    In reference to the dog scenario, the outfit that needs to get in the mix for your defense is PETA. They will argue to the death that an animal is a ‘person’ with rights and cannot be owned, you are just providing a home and care for it so it does not have to endure the wild.

  • Victor Martin April 20, 2018, 7:11 am

    Well, it seems that once again, there is a question about protection v.s. guns. I really don’t care about N.Y. I don’t live there and never will, mostly because of things like this article. Let me explain why here in rural Texas we don’t seem to have N.Y. problems…it’s because even a drunk, backwoods redneck knows that, in order to tell a different story in court….YOU HAVE TO BE ALIVE. By the time it gets to court, that damn dognapper story would be a full blown home invasion, and the “witnesses” cannot defend themselves, because…let’s see…oh yeah, they’re dead.

    Some idiot posted about “moral compass”. Yep, I have one, and mine points to the fact that if you come on my property to jack with what is mine, you might not leave on your own two feet. Screw all the political correctness crap. Stay off my property, and you won’t get hurt.

    See, nobody messes with “that guy”. It works. Plain and simple. Make it so “expensive” for the criminals that they find somebody else to jack. It’s the only language they know. That’s MY law. Deal with it.

    • Zupglick April 20, 2018, 12:42 pm

      No. The question is about LAW and Justice.

  • Cyrus April 20, 2018, 6:58 am

    What if another dog attacks your dog (while your dog is either out on a walk with you or your dog is on your own property and said dog enters your property) and is killing your dog. Can you shoot that other dog to stop it from killing your dog?

    • Infidel762X51 April 20, 2018, 9:10 am

      In PA, at least when I retired about 10 years ago, you could kill a dog that was attacking a person, another dog, or other animal. Laws change so I would get a current copy of the Crimes Code and look it up for your state.

    • jim April 20, 2018, 1:26 pm

      In most states and instances, NO. But………..if you “believe” that the dog posed a similar threat to you or other humans, YES.

      People need to understand the content of that sentence in order to understand how the law works.

      It happened to me…an unleashed dog attacked my leashed dog. I grabbed my dog and restrained him. The other dog’s owner did nothing, and his dog pursued the attack. While yelling at the owner to get his dog under control, I reached into the fight in an attempt to break it up. His dog turned on me, biting my left hand, and going for my legs. I drew my gun and killed the dog. The police were called, a lot of information was taken. The other dog’s owner was cited for failing to control his dog. My gun was confiscated, and I was told the PD would contact me. A few days later, the PD came to my house and told me the DA will not pursue charges BECAUSE THE DOG TURNED ON ME, AND I DEFENDED MYSELF. Yes, I got my gun back.

      You cannot shoot a dog for attacking your dog, but you can shoot that dog if it poses a reasonable threat to your safety, or that of others. This is not universal law, but is applicable in most states, I believe.

  • OFBG April 20, 2018, 6:29 am

    “The law doesn’t allow one to use deadly force to protect property.” It does here in New Mexico. While I have no aversion to killing someone who threatens me or my family – whicht includes my dog – I might well hesitate to shoot an unarmed burglar. That’s why I have homeowner’s insurance.

    • Mike S. April 20, 2018, 8:08 am

      Any burglar in my house gets met with deadly force. Just the fact that he’s there is justification enough. Wait to see if he’s armed? I don’t think so!!

    • d April 20, 2018, 9:02 am

      And IF the ‘unarmed burglar’ gets your weapon….to late even for Homeowner’s Insurance….which by the way is for when you are NOT home….home invasions are meant to be repelled with force, ANYTIME inside your HOME….since insurance is useless and will NOT stop the threat to you or your loved ones……..imho

    • jim April 20, 2018, 1:34 pm

      An “unarmed burglar” is not a good example. First, you do not know if he is unarmed. Second, you do not know his intent of breaking into your home. If you feel it is a distinct possibility that he is there to do harm, or that he may, at some point, be motivated to harm, you have the right to defend yourself and your family.

      A better example would be someone breaking into your car to steal items inside. However, in your effort to stop him from stealing from your car, things may happen, or escalate, which would give you justification to shoot.

  • Nick M April 20, 2018, 5:33 am

    If you caught him on your property, and don’t know he is taking the dog, that would be different. Thievery is not to be punished by death, after the fact. See Exodus 21 if your moral compass is a bit off.

    • Mr.Liberty April 20, 2018, 10:38 am

      Thank God(pun intended) we don’t live in a place governed by ideology from the Bible. There might be some good ideas in there but it is not a book to look to on how to live your life as a modern American and in some cases like this one, it makes you docile. You are entitled to your opinion but if you break into a man’s house or trespass on his property, it is reasonable to consider you might get hurt or killed. Don’t mess with a man’s things, his family, and his rights and everything will be okay.

      • Zupglick April 20, 2018, 12:46 pm

        Why not? The Muslims do.

      • John Z January 1, 2021, 10:48 am

        The facts are, we DO live in a country that was based on Biblical ideology. For the first 250 years we held to it and were more successful as a country than we are now. There is justification for self defense in the Bible, READ IT FOR YOURSELF AND SEE!

  • Loophole? April 20, 2018, 4:23 am

    If on the other hand, you run in and save the dog and pick it up without threatening the person, and he then proceeds to start kicking you, then you should be able to claim self-defense. Just depends on how much you love that dog.

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