Shooting in Self Defense: What Justifies Lethal Force?

Inthegravestextreme_book About 20 years ago, I took a course in defense shooting given by a local sheriff’s deputy. It was a very useful two days, and was also the scariest experience I’ve ever had, outside of seeing Hillary Clinton in Grand Central Terminal. The deputy put us through a dozen or so shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, in which he took pains to emphasize that the life-or-death decisions you make in a split second are based on inadequate information and stand an excellent chance of being wrong. (If you can’t get one of these courses, I urge you to buy a copy of Masad Ayoob’s book, In the Gravest Extreme. Ayoob is a career cop, and you can either read his book or hope for an understanding cellmate.)

And, he continued, even if you survive the gunplay, your real problems begin when the DA comes after you, takes you to court, and makes you out to be a murderer. It was not a pretty picture.

But it may be improving. In 15 states, the law is being changed so that you no longer actually have to be having your throat slit in order to shoot in self-defense. (click here to read the story.)

One of the main criticisms anti-gun advocates levy at right-to-shoot laws like these is that they hold civilians to a much lower standard of proof that there was reason to employ lethal force than is required of policemen. This, however, is as it should be.

The average cop has a list of options, short of shooting, that the civilian lacks, including:

  • An armed partner.
  • A real working knowledge of self-defense.
  • A radio to call for backup.
  • Mace.
  • A PR-24, which is a baton to you.
  • A sap. No, not a member of the Bush administration, but a blackjack.
  • Sap gloves. These are heavy gloves with pockets of lead dust sewn into the knuckles.
  • A Tazer.
  • A beanbag gun.

Moreover, the typical police officer has probably had a couple of violent encounters, and is less prone to panic than a civilian who has never had one, which is a huge advantage.

Civilians can’t get this neat stuff, so our options are submit (which often gets you killed) or shoot. And if the law cuts us a little slack, that’s fine. And way overdue.