You Were Forced to Defend Yourself. Now What?

By Suzanne Wiley published on in News

Part of the responsibility of being a gun owner is knowing when and how to use your gun in self-defense. Let’s hope this never happens. Just in case of a very unfortunate series of events you have to take another human life, it is wise to have a plan how to handle it.

I am not a lawyer, a law enforcement officer, nor have I had to use any of my guns in self-defense, however I have studied self-defense experts’ reports on the subject and interviewed retired police officers, lawyers and people who had to use their gun for advice and suggestions on what to do after a self-defense shooting. Before making any final decisions, it is important to note that you should have a plan in place and develop a relationship with a lawyer before you ever have to use your gun.

First, know exactly when you can legally use deadly force. Every state has a law stating that you may defend yourself, however all states’ laws are different. Please check with your state to see if you have a duty to retreat and when it is legal to use lethal force. To read more about when it is okay to use deadly force, read my blog, When can you use deadly force.  In general, to use deadly force in a defensive situation, you must be justified, deadly force must be necessary and reasonable, and above all your life must be in imminent danger of death or injury.

911 calls are recorded and can be used against you.

911 calls are recorded and can be used against you.

The first thing you must do is call 911 and report the incident. The first word of advice from everyone I have asked, even from a retired police officer, is do not say any more than what is necessary. 911 operators record all calls and the prosecutors will use what you say as evidence in court. For example, when you talk to the operator, give them your name, location, phone number and a description of yourself. You can say, “My life was in danger and I had to shoot them.” Tell the 911 operator that you have a gun. The 911 operator will dispatch law enforcement and will most likely keep you on the phone. It is smart to request an ambulance from the 911 operator.

After calling 911, call your attorney and tell them what happened.

Before law enforcement shows up, put your gun down. When the cops arrive, they have no idea what happened or who the bad guy is. They will be on the defensive. Have your hands where the police can see them and your gun holstered or put down out of your reach.

Do not ever disturb the crime scene. Even though you are the innocent in the situation, you are still standing in the middle of a crime scene. Do not touch the body, broken glass, bullets, or spent shell casings.

Do as the cops say without argument. It is their job to find out what happened, who the bad guy is, and to stop any crime that is being committed. They might have you put your hands behind your head, kneel down, or even lie down on the floor. If they handcuff you, do not resist. It will also be possible that they want to take you in for questioning. One lawyer I interviewed said, “It is the police securing the scene of a homicide, and it will be up to your lawyer later to put the ‘justifiable’ in front of that ‘homicide.’ Every word you say arguing with the cops about how they are treating you will be recorded and played back later.” So follow their instructions without arguing.

Your interaction with the law enforcement on the scene should be much like it was with the 911 operator. State just the facts, “That man lying on the floor broke into my home. He rushed at me. My life was in danger; I shot my firearm at him.” Do not tell the police anymore than this. Your opinions and longer story is for your attorney at this point. You do have the right to be silent and you do have the right to an attorney.

Firearms trainer and self-defense expert, Massad Ayoob suggests:

  • Let the officer know the perp threatened your life
  • You will sign a complaint
  • Point out witnesses and evidence
  • Demand an attorney. Mr. Ayoob says, “Officer, you will have my full cooperation in 24 hours after I’ve spoken to counsel.”

Mr. Ayoob’s suggestions are excellent ones, but a retired police officer told me that it will be their job to gather the evidence and let it speak for itself.

In fear of his life, Earl Jones shot an intruder in his home.

In fear of his life, Earl Jones shot an intruder in his home.

Be considerate and respectful of the police that show up, they are just doing their job. Insist that you have a lawyer before saying anything further. This should stop law enforcement from asking any more questions. They are trained to try to get someone to confess and will ask you many questions.

After such a stressful event, your memory can fail you. Further, because of the adrenaline, you might feel very chatty. Try to resist telling the police any more than just the facts. Studies have shown that police officers who have had to use their weapon have confused facts and cannot remember the exact series of events. This can get you into trouble. In fact, some have actually made up events that never happened during a self-defense shooting. That is why it is important to get a lawyer right away. The retired police officer I interviewed said, “One night in jail while they sort things out is better than years because you said the wrong thing.”

Remember, it is the cops’ job to get a guilty person to fess up. Seeing a dead person on the floor and you with a gun might mean they automatically suspect you are the bad guy. They have no idea what happened. Do not be overconfident in your innocence. Dr. Saul Kassin who is a Psychology professor at Williams College says most people who are innocent, believe that everyone else knows they are too, but this is not true. Do not have a false sense of security in your innocence. I know this may not sound promising, but after all is said and done, and the investigation proves your life was in imminent danger, your innocence will be affirmed.

The law enforcement officers who arrive on the scene may decide to arrest you. Be prepared for them to confiscate your gun, regardless if they arrest you or not. You will be able to get it back after the investigation is finished; however, it may take years to get it back. Your home defense gun should not be the family heirloom. Invest in a gun you don’t mind missing for years. If you are arrested, you will be handcuffed and searched. The cops will take you “downtown” and book you. This means getting photographed and fingerprinted. Then you will most likely be placed in a cell to wait for them to post bail. Sometimes, depending on your city, posting bail can take just a few hours or overnight. In fact, Texas Law Shield, LLP says that the police can hold you up to 48 hours without even bringing a charge against you.

Once the ordeal is over, the media may hound you. There will be people in your community who believe you did the wrong thing and that you committed murder. Take the advice from your attorney whether or not you should speak to the media and what you should say if you choose to do so.

You may feel isolated, depressed, or guilty afterwards. It is completely normal to feel all of those emotions. Seek counseling if you need to. Taking another human life, even in self-defense, will cause a wide-range of emotions that no one can prepare you for.

A membership in Texas Law Shield is like insurance against the worst that could happen.

A membership in Texas Law Shield is like insurance against the worst that could happen.

Two organizations, The Armed Citizen’s Legal Defense Network and Texas Law Shield, help prepare you before it happens. Kind of like having insurance if you ever have to defend yourself. You may join either for membership fees. The Armed Citizen’s Legal Defense Network offers education, access to an attorney, and a deposit for your attorney if you ever need them. Texas Law Shield provides 24-hour access to an attorney, a relationship with an attorney before a self-defense situation occurs, legal representation, all attorney fees both criminal and civil law suits, education, updates, and support.

Of course nothing can prepare you 100 percent if it happens, but it is best to be as knowledgeable as possible what will happen.

To read more about defending yourself, these blogs provide further information:

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The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (10)

  • Michael Sessions

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    All of this about having a lawyer on tap when and if a shooting takes place is great BUT, how does one find a reputable criminal lawyer?.

    Reply

  • J.MAGEO

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    AFTER DEFENDING MYSELF FROM AN AMBUSH MY GUNS WERE CONFISCATED BY THE POLICE,I ASKED THEM HOW AM I GOING TO DEFEND MYSELF IF IT HAPPENS AGAIN.( ANSWER)”DO WHAT YOU GOT TO DO”.TWO DAYS LATER IT HAPPENED AGAIN WHILE MY GUNS ARE SITTING IN THE POLICE DEPARTMENT.SHOULD THEY HAVE OFFERED SOME KIND OF PROTECTION UNTIL THEY RESOLVED THE MATTER.THE SAFETY OF MY FAMILY WAS COMPROMISED BECAUSE THEY TOOK MY GUNS WICH IS WHY I BOUGHT THE GUNS IN THE FIRST PLACE WAS FOR PROTECTING MINES.WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS ARE THERE ANY VIOLATION HERE THAT I NEED TO PURSUE?

    Reply

  • Teresa

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    I am a single disabled female living alone, what am I suppose to do tell the perp to “oh wait a second I have to call my lawyer before I blow your brains out” and expect him to wait before he hurts me or go on and shoot him and then I get treated worse than him and have my only means of protection taken away from me?? The cops where I live ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS either and I wont be able to afford lawyers, bonds and have to buy another gun, we need all new young starving lawmakers in office to try to change this system, I so worry how it’s going to be when my grandboys grow up!

    Reply

  • Always listening

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    I carry a small digital tape recorder with me all the time. I started using it at work because I work for home health and document a lot including milage, time,which patients I have visited,etc. I soon discovered it is great if a cop pulls me over for speeding ( I got out of a ticket because the cop lied) or if I witness a wreck or any number of other problems. I love my tape recorder.

    Reply

  • Pappy

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    Little different on this end, any person with a physical type disability has several conditions that prevent from fighting back, i would think has no choice to defend himself. If theres time 1 warning any agressen by the Criminal illegally entering a Home leaves no choice.

    Reply

  • The Sleeper Has Awakened

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    “it is the cops’ job to get a guilty person to fess up”

    I must second that the Police are NOT your friends! They DO NOT protect and serve, they only find and arrest ‘Bad Guys’ so that they can meet quotas and generate revenue for the city/municipality.

    I REPEAT…THE POLICE ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS!

    Use your right to remain silent until you speak with your attorney!!!

    I would advise that you call your attorney first after a shooting and then call the Police (WHO ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS!)

    Reply

  • H Eugene

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    Suzanne: IMHO, wrong answer. First, RELOAD. Where there’s one, there might be more. Second: ENSURE all on your side of the weapon are safe. Third: Call your attorney and have him/her call 911. If you call 911, they might have the ability to lock up your phone and then you are SOL trying to get your attorney to respond. Fourth, Ensure the perp[s] are disabled without touching anything. NEVER lay your weapon down [see #1] until the peace officers/your attorney arrive.

    Reply

  • Right Wing Extremist

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    The best thing I can tell anyone in any self defense situation whether or not you used you firearm or anything for that matter is that “THE POLICE ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS”!!! DO NOT TRUST THEM AT ALL! They WILL twist your words around, they WILL lie, to my they will try anything they can to bust you whether you are guilty or not THEY DO NOT CARE!!! They way they see the world is there is them and there is us and to them we are ALL considered guilty until proven otherwise! This has been proven to many on more than one occasion. On one occasion I had a road raging fruitcake try to run me off the road he then called the police to try to cover his own ass and lied and said I pulled a gun on him! I DID NOTHING OF THE SORT! When the cops came to my place of business to question me about the incident they lied about multiple things, THEN In the police report they lied on multiple times as the report was full of things I did not say, innacuracies and downright LIES!!! That said more that one attorney has told me DO NOT TRUST THE POLICE! DO NOT TALK TO THE POLICE! THEY ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS!!!

    Reply

  • Steve

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    This article just reaffirms my belief that if I have to shoot someone in self defense, I won’t be calling the law. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be treated like a criminal and have my means of self defense seized for possibly years, leaving me and mine defenseless.

    Don’t call the law, just get rid of the body and keep your mouth shut. Where I live, dumping a body wouldn’t be a problem. Of course, any witnesses would ruin that plan.

    Better yet, just beat the scumbag into the ground instead of shooting him. A good hickory ax handle is pretty effective. So are a hatchet or hammer. Far quieter too.

    I’m not saying that I advocate violence or law breaking, but the law is seriously flawed and we should take that into account before calling the police, no matter the situation. Especially if you live in a big city, where most cops are morons who think everyone is a criminal.

    Reply

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