The Law of Self-Defense is an Essential But Low Standard

I’ve recently been criticizing gun control advocacy organizations and gun owners for promoting the idea that people can/should “shoot first and ask questions later.”

Many gun owners responded to my recent commentaries on this topic by noting that “you wouldn’t want that sign shown to a jury” or “that’s the kind of thing the police will notice and could be used as a part of building a case.”

I certainly agree that acting within the law and staying out of jail is a good starting point. But in my view, it doesn’t go far enough.

My thinking on this has certainly been influenced by Massad Ayoob, whose MAG-40 “Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement” course I was fortunate to take back in 2012 when I was just getting started on this personal and scholarly journey.

Back then I observed,

Ayoob stresses that life is precious and the use of lethal force is a cosmic decision that is not to be made lightly. It is not simply a matter of knowing when you can legally use lethal force and what to do before, during, and after an encounter, but it is also a matter of understanding what you should and should not do.

Massad Ayoob’s MAG-40 Course – A Humanitarian Approach to Armed Citizenship

That is, it is not merely a question of law, but also of ethics.

John Correia of Active Self-Protection is a more recent incarnation of this same way of thinking and has also been tremendously influential on my personal and scholarly takes on Gun Culture 2.0.

As John says repeatedly on his YouTube channels (especially his Active Self Protection Extra channel), gun owners (everyone, really) should be “good, sane, sober, moral, and prudent.”

Fortunately, most are. But like ethics generally, these things bear repeating and we should reinforce this by criticizing those who are not.

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  1. States may differ, but even in the poorly named “stand your ground” states, the standard is a lot more alike than not. A common misconception is since the “duty to retreat” is removed, people can use deadly force much more freely and that’s just not true. In most states, the victim that uses deadly force must articulate reasonable fear of great bodily harm or death (both are legal standards), be a reluctant participant (you can’t provoke or escalate the conflict), and the force used in response must be objectively reasonable (not just your “opinion” and no lesser force will do). A local law school describes the 4 part test as such:

    Four elements are required for self-defense: (1) an unprovoked attack, (2) which threatens imminent injury or death, and (3) an objectively reasonable degree of force, used in response to (4) an objectively reasonable fear of injury or death.

    Using that approach, I would argue there is no way to use deadly force in manner that is both legal and unethical. Of course that doesn’t stop criminals, which is the whole point of self defense law, but case law as a whole tends to support what I said above.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In his incident analyses, John Correia will distinguish between whether the defender at a given point ‘can’ shoot vs. whether they ‘should.’ He’s also one more than one occasion opined that a perp ‘needs’ to be shot right then and there.

    Self defenders ride a fine line and face a split-second decision with momentous consequences. It does not help any to have fools to the left of us, jokers to the right.


  3. Yeah, the attack on “stand your ground” is consistently made by the forces that simply despise the right to self-defense. They always refer to it in cases where it had nothing to do with the situation or results at all. But I think there is an obvious ignorance on the part of many thinking it somehow lowers the standard for defensive force. Even if in a stand your ground state, I think an individual is delusional if they don’t take a safe avenue of retreat, if available.


  4. I’m sick and tired of how the gun “community” turns on people who end up using force. In the end, as long as they tried to stay within the bounds of morality then I’m generally satisfied. If we demand perfection then we end up attacking our own people.

    Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.

    In almost every case, close enough is good enough and we should be demanding that our prosecutors respect that standard. We should further be punishing any prosecutors who do not.


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